Amnesty’s recent report about the horrors of Saydnaya prison sheds light on a torture complex that was mercilessly used as a tool to crush the resolve of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. In one horrifying testimony, a former detainee ‘Salam’ describes the welcome party prisoners face when they first arrive at the torture complex:

“You are thrown to the ground and they use different instruments for the beatings: electric cables with exposed copper wire ends – they have little hooks so they take a part of your skin – normal electric cables, plastic water pipes of different sizes and metal bars… I was blindfolded the whole time, but I would try to see somehow. All you see is blood: your own blood, the blood of others… ”

Other prisoners recalled the use of rape, starvation and water deprivation. They heard the gurgling voices and the snapping of necks of prisoners who were hanged en masse. Former detainee ‘Hassan’ spoke of the of the consequences of the sexual violence prisoners faced:

“I know all about it, I lived it… Sometimes psychological pain is worse than physical pain, and the people who were forced to do this were never the same again. I know some who died because they became so depressed they just stopped eating the little food they were offered…”

Prisoners are stripped of their humanity and are fed like animals. ‘Kareem’, who was held in the prison, said:

“On the Floor, we have the scabs and puss of the scabies, hair from our bodies, blood from the lice. All of this is on the Floor. But the Floor is where they put the food…The food spreads out all over ground.”

It is a horrific, repulsing reality and a damning indictment of powers that still wish for the Syrian people to negotiate at the same table with their oppressors, on their oppressors’ terms.

Faces of the Syrian Torture chambers

Many prisoners who survived Saydnaya later moved on to lead the revolution. The leaders of Ahrar Al-Sham, one of the largest if not the largest rebel group, were all once imprisoned in Saydnaya as was the former leader of the rebel faction Jaysh Al-Islam, Zahran Alloush and the current leader of Suqur Al Sham, Isa Al-Shaykh.

Amongst the rank and file of the fighters, many experienced first hand the brutality of the Assad regime prisons. CAGE outreach director Moazzam Begg met many of them during his travels to Syria. He said he was surprised “just how many of the Syrians I met had been imprisoned and how widely the cases of Syrian rendition victims, including Guantanamo prisoners, are known.”

Read more: Moazzam Begg; My Journey to the land of blessing and torture

The notoriety of the Assad regime in torture and repression was utilised by the US in its War on Terror. Despite being designated within the “Axis of Evil” that George Bush spoke of, Syria received  many renditioned prisoners, including four Canadian citizens and one German citizen, all renditioned illegally by the US.

Saydnaya Prisoners

Left to Right: Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou El Maati, Muayyad Nureddin and inset Mohammed Haydar Zammar.

In Syria, they faced the most cruel and degrading treatment. The men, Maher Arar, Abdullah Almalki, Muayyad Nureddin, Ahmad Abou El Maati and the German Mohammed Haydar Zammar, were taken to the infamous Fara’ Falestin, or Palestine Branch detention centre, known for its “underground tombs” and “graves”.

Maher, who was shockingly renditioned from the US mainland, spoke of the torture they faced: “Where they hit me with the cables, my skin turned blue for two or three weeks, but there was no bleeding”. On one occasion he was beaten repeatedly over a period of 18 hours, to the extent he said “I was so scared I urinated on myself twice”.

One particular prisoner Abu Mus’ab As-Suri was arrested late 2005 in Quetta, Pakistan, before being handed to the US. He was held at the US naval base on Diego Garcia, a British Island in the Indian Ocean.

In September 2006 he was transferred secretly to the Syrian regime. In all likelihood Abu Mus’ab, whose real name is, Mustafa Sitt Mariam Nasar, would have been tortured and mistreated for his support of the 1980’s Hama uprising.


Abu Khaid Al-Suri and Abu Mus’ab As-Suri

Nasar’s co-associate, Abu Khalid Al-Suri, was also arrested by Pakistani forces and handed to the US during the same period of time in 2005. He also ended up in Syrian dungeons before finally being released just as the revolution began, only to emerge as one of the leading figures of Ahrar Al-Sham. He was later assassinated by IS for his opposition to their ‘state’.

Does torture work?

Through the stories and experiences of those who survived the torture of Saydnaya, Fara’ Falestin and other Syrian dungeons we can follow a tale of defiance against all odds. The barbarity we hear of sought to crush the resolve of the people, but as we enter the sixth year of the revolution, that resolve seems to have only increased in intensity.

Those who were once subjugated and humiliated by the regime, are today bravely retelling their stories while others have emerged as leaders of the opposition to defend their people against the aggression of the regime that tortured them.

Read more: The man who ended the CIA’s torture programme

We have been told by Donald Trump, the leader of so-called ‘free world’, that ‘torture works’. Keeping in mind that the Iraq war was based on false evidence gathered from torture, it is clear that torture has only ever worked to humiliate and subjugate people, as well as to manufacture a false narrative that feeds the War on Terror.

Still, in many cases, torture does not stop the will to seek justice, accountability and freedom. Saydnaya despite all its terrors, stands testament to this.


CC image courtesy of Mr.TinDC on Flickr


(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)