The way to Golgotha, from Lebanon to the Syrian prisons

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. Hereunder is my testimony to the Lebanese, Arab and international public opinions in order to reveal what the Lebanese face in brutal coercion and terrorism unequalled even in the worst films of terror and the nazi and fascist concentration camps.

I hope this testimony will find its way to the Lebanese, Arab and international media in order to spur international organizations and Ministries of Foreign Affairs to intervene and liberate the hundreds of Lebanese prisoners subject to daily torture in the Syrian prisons only because they demand Lebanon’s freedom, independence and sovereignty.

I also hope the leaders of the Free World will read my testimony and that it will prompt them to intervene for the liberation of Lebanese political prisoners in Syria and ending the Syrian occupation of Lebanon and the removal of its yoke from his people in distress who are governed by a gang of yes-men under Syrian control.

My readers will forgive me for not revealing my name because I am still living in Lebanon and wish to avoid being arrested again and “skinned alive”, as Ghazi Kanaan, the chief of the Syrian Mokhabarat (Secret Service) in Lebanon, threatened me before liberating me.

My way to Golgotha began as I was going to work in my private car. When I left the car before my office, a bunch of armed men surrounded me pointing their Kalashnikovs to my face. They introduced themselves saying: “Don’t move or say anything. We are from the Syrian Mokhabarat and you are under arrest.”

No sooner had their chief stopped speaking than two of his men rushed upon me and placed a black bag over my head and handcuffed me. They then threw me in the trunk of the car and sped away.

I took to wonder what they wanted from me, a retired soldier from the Lebanese Army since about two years with no military activity since then, except being a member of a local society for the promotion of our region and the living conditions of its inhabitants. As for my political inclinations they consist in opposing Syrian occupation to our country, as is the case of most of my countrymen. I am also active as a partisan of General Michel Aoun in the two Metn districts. I soon got my answer, since the car stopped and my kidnappers retrieved me from the trunk of the car and pushed me, handcuffed and my head still in the black bag, down a long stairs to a moist and mouldy underground cell, where I could smell the sea. I immediately realized that I was detained in the notorious Hotel Beau Rivage, transformed by the Syrian Mokhabarat into a Beirut central prison and Mokhabarat Head Quarters, headed by Colonel Rustom Ghazaleh and his henchmen.

The blows, kicks and curses did not stop since I was retrieved from the car and until I reached the black cell measuring 1.50 cm long by 80 cm wide. They hollered all the way curses on the Lebanese, saying in the Syrian accent: “We want to fuck the greatest Lebanese. The greatest Lebanese is no better than my shoe. Who do you think you prostitutes are to oppose us…” As well as other hair raising curses.

They then threw me in the cell that is more like a tomb. A couple of hours later, the door opened and the henchmen came in, put the black bag again over my head and pushed me before them through the corridor separating the cells up to the inquisition room, where they sat me on a metal chair specially designed for the inquest. They cursed the Lebanese and the Maronite Patriarch Mar Nasrallah Sfeir, saying he was senile and stupid. They left no Christian leader without cursing him, 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 as I inferred from the henchmen who addressed them as “sir”.

The henchmen undressed – or rather tore off my clothes – while I was still handcuffed and the black bag over my head. Thereupon, they showered me with very cold water and fell upon me, boxing and beating me with batons. Bleeding from my nose and mouth, I couldn’t count the blows I received, and I couldn’t see where the blows were coming from since 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. And every time I denied the accusations, they became furious and redoubled 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 from my torturers and the investigators when they 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”.

We were a group of nine detainees from various Lebanese regions when we were placed on a truck, our heads in bags, handcuffed and with our feet tied. The cold was intense and 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 the pain in our open wounds.

We reached the Anjar penitentiary in the Beqaa valley, which is the central penitentiary upon which are sent 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 that was requisitioned by the Syrians upon invading Lebanon and transformed into a vast prison without alteration other than converting the horseshoeing 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 I already said, a grouping center for the detainees who were 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 who are constantly thirsty for Lebanese blood.

In Anjar, they lined us up before a wall and removed the bags from our heads in order to enable General Ghazi Kanaan to examine our faces closely. He did in fact come up to us and looked at each of us individually, asking: ”Who is this one?” A Moukhabarat officer, carrying a list gave our name.

Kanaan passed us in review for about a quarter of an hour before pronouncing a political speech saying: “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 made 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 fell upon him hitting him with the haft of his gun. They covered our heads again with bags and put us back in a truck on our way to Syria.

“Whoever enters is lost, and whoever leaves is reborn” is the slogan written at the entrance of the Mazzeh prison, or of the Palestinian investigation branch affiliated to the Syrian Army secret service. This prison is the reception center entered by thousands of Lebanese who were unheard of since.

We were nine in number coming from various Lebanese regions. They brought us down from the truck and removed the bags from our heads and lined us up. In the prison courtyard, the Syrian colonel Munir Abrass, head of investigation in the Palestinian branch, received us. About 20 soldiers carrying batons and whips that stared at us with eyes gleaming with hatred surrounded him, as if we were enemies since a long time or Israeli soldiers. When the truck and its escorting Moukhabarat car left, the soldiers of Abrass surrounded us and started beating us without preliminaries while cursing us and shouting: “We shall fuck you and crush the biggest head under our shoe…” 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 beating stopped and we huddled together, bleeding from every part of our bodies. It was already night in Damascus and very cold. I will never forget that night all my life. We were praying all the saints and prophets for mercy, but there was only deaf ears. Voracious wolves are more merciful to their game than the Syrian torturers. A few moments later, they turned upon us jets of ice-cold water. I don’t know if their intention was to wash us up. At any rate, after years spent in the Mazzeh prison I found out that this was the standard procedure of receiving prisoners, especially if they were an important bunch like us.

They put the bags again over our heads and transferred us to solitary cells that are very dark rooms, some 40 meters underground of I believe 80 cm. width by 180 cm. long in which the detainee cannot stand. Its door was of iron with a small window opening 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 the bag was removed and I could see Fares sitting on a chair 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 and accused us of collaborating with Israel, after which the beating would start without other preliminaries.

Words cannot fully represent what 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, my ears and my throat.

They burned me with cigars and cigarettes.

They sat me on the German chair (sic!).

They hanged me on a wheel.

They hanged 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 stooled 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 horror films he saw.

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 Mohamad Mufleh and a host of assistants and soldiers we called “torturers”.

Thereupon, they made me sign a document I did not know its contents.

They then allowed me to bathe. After which they shaved my hair and gave me clothes similar to a Syrian soldier’s uniform. Then one of the torturers 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, that I am not present and never entered a Syrian jail. And this is the situation of every Lebanese prisoner in Syrian jails whose their parents ask about them in vain, since their names are not found on the prison registers. It is necessary to oblige the Syrian authorities to reveal all the true names.

They transferred me to a large prison cell containing 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 the heat and humidity, and in winter we froze from the cold. Every now and then, they used to administer to us, as a reminder, a round of beating.

Night in the Mazzeh prison was 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 never end!

I later learned that my parents tried to contact me in jail 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 was 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. Shame!

As for our food, the daily menu consisted of potatoes, olives, burgul (broken wheat), cauliflower. We used to spend our time in weeping and telling stories of our countries and hearing news from freshly arriving prisoners, while we dressed their wounds with water and rags from the clothes 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 and returned to solitary confinement, but when signs of death were apparent on him, they returned him to our midst in the large cell. His skin was bluish, his mouth was frothy and blood was oozing from his ears and nose. We told our jailers that he was dying and there was nothing we could do for him. They answered: “Let him die, the devil take him. May you all die!”

We tried artificial respiration on him and wiping his face with water. His respiration soon became rapid, he began to gasp then, practically unconscious, he looked at our faces, smiled a sad smile and passed away. We began to shout for help from the jailers. But when we told them that he died, they cursed us, then came in and carried him away to the Al-Mouassat hospital when it was too late. We later learned that he joined a long list of Lebanese buried in mass graves in the vicinity of the Mazzeh prison guarded by the Syrian Special Forces to prevent anyone from approaching without 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 means worthy of horror films, are used to torment the prisoners. The 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”.

As for Boutros Khawand, he is incarcerated in ward 601 of the Mazzeh prison. He has become a shadow of himself due to coercion and torture.

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: He was tied or crucified upon a heavy wooden device in the form of a cross – because he was a Christian as the commander of the prison Bassam Hassan, said – that they tied with ropes and cables then forced him to run in circles, 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.

And when Bassel Assad died, the torturers pounded us like crazy bulls and left us for a whole week without food because they thought we were pleased with his death!

After spending five years in jail without judgment, as all the Lebanese there, the Syrians decided to liberate me in answer to solicitations in my favor. They brought me in a truck to Anjar where I sat on the floor awaiting the arrival of General Ghazi Kanaan who 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 and that your destiny is Syria and there is nothing you can do about it!”

Thereupon, they transferred me to the Anjar prison where Adnan Balloul and his henchmen received me with a round of farewell beating 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 whom all those who have passed through that prison regard 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 to beat me. I told him: “Are five years of torture in Syrian jails not enough? What more do you want from me? I have forgotten 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 investigation 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, where I spent three days before one of the pro-Syrian politicians intervened, telling them that five years are enough to teach him, what more do you want from him? He has become the shadow of a man!

And so was I liberated…

I still have to say that Hussein Taliss, the criminal who escaped from the Roumieh prison, accused of the murder of the French Military Attaché 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 in the Mazzeh prison, in charge of the investigation with Lebanese prisoners. He is at present in Damascus and is active in the Syrian Moukhabarat, Lebanese section, on major security operations in Lebanon. It is said that he is responsible of 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 award of the 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 war 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 opinion, 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 vastest 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. Their number is about 2800. Accused of opposing the Syrians, they were killed in cold blood… I call upon Mr. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General and the responsible of the section of Human Rights, whom I 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,
Damascus, Syria.
May 1st 2000.