Syrian leader revives father’s torture techniques (JERUSALEM POST) By DAVID ROSENBERG / THE MEDIA LINE 03/19/12)
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Syrian President Bashar Assad has taken out the torture toolkit his
father once employed as he engages in the most widespread and
appalling abuses his country has suffered in decades in an effort to
put down a year-old rebellion.
“In terms of the number of people being tortured, and the level of
torture and the type, of which the more gruesome are now being
inflicted, we are seeing the return of the very dark days of the
1970s and 1980s, when Bashar’s father Hafez was in power,” Neil
Sammonds, Syria researcher at Amnesty International, told The Media
Sammands is one of the authors of a report, “I Wanted to Die:”
Syria’s Torture Survivors Speak Out, which the London-based human
rights organization released on Wednesday and documents a wide range
of practices the regime has used against its citizens since rebellion
All told, the report identified 31 methods of torture and other ill-
treatment. Many of them, it said, were methods that had not been used
in years as the incidence and severity of torture declined when
Bashar Assad took over Syria after his father’s death in 2000. The
younger Assad presided over a period of liberalization when he became
president, but quickly backtracked. nevertheless, he had until a year
ago faced little domestic unrest.
The report comes as Damascus launches an assault on rebel redoubts in
the north that have left scores dead and accusations of widespread
abuse and torture. The Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a
network of opposition activists, released footage this week showing
men, women and children lying dead in a blood-drenched room, many
with their throats slit.
The United Nations said on Tuesday that it would soon deploy human
rights monitors in countries bordering Syria to collect eyewitness
testimony on atrocities committed in the country.
In its report Amnesty said people are almost invariably beaten and
tortured and ill-treated during arrest, often again transportation to
detention centers, and routinely once they arrive. Among the victims
are children under 18, but in relatively few cases are women targeted
for abuse, it said.
Among the methods of torture revived over the last several months,
Amnesty said, is shabeh, whereby the victim is hung on a raised hook,
handle or door frame, or by manacled wrists, so that his feet hang
just above the ground while he is beaten. Researchers found evidence
for the frequent use of electric shocks as well as rape and other
tortures and ill-treatment of a sexual nature, all of which had
largely gone into abeyance.
Among the techniques Amnesty documented is one called the “German
Chair,” in which the detainees are tied by their arms and legs to a
metal seat, the back of which is moved backwards. That causes acute
stress to the spine and severe pressure on the neck and limbs, often
resulting in permanent injury.
“I was hanged from the metal handcuffs on my hands attached to the
wall. This hugely strained my hands and was very painful,” a man
identified only as “Mousa” testified to Amnesty investigators. He
said he was held at the Military Intelligence branch in the southern
city of Dera’a last October before fleeing the country to Jordan.
“I also suffered the ‘German chair’ torture method and while in that
position I was given electric shocks. I was also hanged from the
window and my feet did not reach the ground for a few days… By the
end of it, I lost my sense of pain – even that caused by electric
shocks,” he said.
Amnesty based its conclusions on the extent of torture in Syria on a
tiny number of the victims whose testimony was collected in Jordan
last month. Investigators met dozens of Syrians, some 25 of whom said
they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated in detention.
Sammands said it was impossible to estimate how many people have been
subject to torture in the last months since the government bans human
rights groups from entering the country. But, he said, it is quite
likely that the number was huge as tens of thousands of Syrians have
“I would say that most of them are tortured, which means that tens of
thousands have been tortured. Without access to the country, it’s
hard to be precise, but we have very few examples of people who have
been detained who have not been tortured,” Sammands said.
The Syrian government has insisted that rebels have kidnapped and
killed scores of civilians, mutilated their bodies and filmed the
corpses in order to libel the regime
Amnesty said it was investigating reports of abuses by opposition
groups, including the kidnapping and killing of people apparently
because they openly support the government or are members of the
armed gangs known as shabiha, which are widely believed to operate on
“There are a worrying number of reports of alleged torture and
alleged execution of people captured by the opposition,” Sammands
said. But, he noted, that there was no evidence of a systematic
policy of abuse by opposition leaders as there appears to be by the
government in Damascus.
The number of people reported to have died in custody reached 276 as
of this month but, Amnesty said, that given that so many Syrians are
believed held incommunicado the true figure is likely to be higher.
Amnesty scored the Assad regime’s claims to be reforming the legal
system and security arms to prevent abuses. The government ended a
five-decade-long state of emergency 11 months ago, but a law enacted
shortly afterward effectively neutralized the impact by extending
detention without charge to 60 days and allowing the police to pass
their powers of arrest and detention to the country’s multiple
security and intelligence agencies. Other legislation grants
effective impunity to those who commit torture. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 03/19/12)
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