What have the Syrian security forces ever done for us?
If you caught The Secret Policeman’s Ball on Channel 4 last week, you’ll hopefully have enjoyed Eddie Izzard’s routine (best in show, if you ask me; go to 42-48mins). I thought his “flick Hitler’s head” off thing was OK (full marks for clever Monty Python cross-reference), but I particularly liked his riff on the difficulty of Latin in his “amazing things the Romans did” number. Eximius!
Presumably Izzard did the Romans routine because of the Pythons' long association with the SPB events and wanted to deliberately echo The Life Of Brian’s classic “What have the Romans ever done for us?” sketch. Maybe…
Such is my convoluted way of thinking that I had Izzard/Python going through my head as I was reading today’s (deeply unfunny) Amnesty report on torture in Syria. Why? Well, partly because there are mentions of detainees being tortured with a form of crucifixion by their Syrian security force tormentors. Seriously. Not the joke torture of Monty Python, but this:
“We were hung from wood - crucified - while blindfolded and handcuffed, and then beaten mercilessly … from 9am to 7pm”
(testimony from “Musleh”, a 29-year-old Arabic language teacher from Deir al-Bakht village in Dera’a governorate, describing what happened to him when he was arrested for a second time last year on 14 September and taken to the State Security branch in Dera’a city).
“I was crucified naked on the door for three days using metal handcuffs with my toes barely touching the floor”.
(Testimony from “Karim”, an 18-year-old student from al-Taybeh in Dera'a governorate, describing torture he endured when he was held in an Army Brigade 138 base in Dera’a governorate for 25 days in January and February this year).
“They used to take eight or nine of us to interrogation, where around 25 to 30 people would be beating us … During one session I saw the death of a crucified man because they slashed his body with a blade. One of the slashes was deep and near his heart causing his death”.
(Testimony from “Karim”, the 18-year-old student again, this time describing what he saw happening to someone else).
No, I’m not laughing either. In fact, I’m almost ashamed (but actually not ashamed) to say that I even cried when I read one part of this harrowing report. It was this part:
“My cell was about 15x3 metres and had a small toilet without a washing basin. We were about 75 people in that room. There was no space to sleep, so 20 people would stand up and the others resting on their side. I could not sleep for five days then started crying on the sixth as I was longing to sleep… I was held for about 18 days during which I never saw the daylight … Everything becomes small especially the time. I was so distressed as I no longer knew how much time has passed. If I slept, I would not know how long I have been sleeping or if it is day or night. The only thing that kept me going is my belief that I’ll leave this place and I’ll taste my mum’s food again. I also dreamed about my cat which I love and was longing to be free to feed it again”
(Testimony from “Emad”, an activist in al-Zabadani and Damascus, who had been filming protests last spring and passing footage to media and posting it on social media sites. He was detained at the Military Intelligence branch in Kafr Sousseh in Damascus. He was also forced to watch his 54-year-old father being tortured).
His love for his cat.... The Amnesty report, ‘I wanted to die’: Syria’s torture survivors speak out, has got pages of stuff like this. (Here's report author Neil Sammonds discussing it in today's Independent.) It details 31 different types of torture being used by various branches of the Syrian security forces on detainees during the last year (anything from being subjected to electric shocks in electric chairs, to a man having a heavy bag of water tied to his penis and swung around; another man was confronted with a glass bottle with a broken top and told: “Either you sit on it or we put it into you”. He did what they ordered).
The report points out that the last year has seen Syria returning to the ultra-brutality and repression the country last suffered in the 1980s under Bashar's father Hafez al-Assad (there was something of an improvement in the late 90s and early 2000s). These torturers in Syria’s security apparatus have got to be brought to justice: a referral to the International Criminal Court is the likeliest way for this to happen. One - eventual - route toward this is via the United Nations, which of course is currently beset by a diplomatic roadblock (please support Amnesty’s call on Russia to end its unconditional support for the Syrian government, so this diplomatic blockage can be cleared). Meanwhile, as the killing and torture goes on, the beleaguered people of Syria have every reason to ask: what have the Syrian security forces ever done for us?
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.