book “Sednaya Prison During The Syrian Revolution:Testimony of Abu Omar

They took us to “branch 261” the military intelligence branch in Homs. There, they put us in cars, and drove to “branch 293” the officers’ branch in Damascus.

August 7, 2020

book “Sednaya Prison During The Syrian Revolution:Testimony of Abu Omar

Source: The Association of Detainees and The Missing in Sednaya Prison


The Arrest

In one of the early days of November 2011, I had a night off duty, a routine, we, in the Syrian military call it a night leave i.e. spending the night with the family at home. Returning to the camp the following morning, I saw a car parking in front of my tent, it was the battalion commander car. It was unusual for a battalion commander to visit a junior officer, First Lieutenant, like me, at the early hours of the day. He hugged me tightly with kisses and warm greetings, an unusual behavior that heated my surprise. A few minutes later he told me that the regiment commander wants to see me. The regiment is one of the special forces’ regiments. Its command was in a camp used to train university students (a system applied to prepare male students to the mandatory service after graduation). I joined the battalion commander in his car and departed the battalion camp in the city of “al-Qusayr” in our way to the regiment command.

When we arrived in the main square of the camp, I saw the chief of staff of the regiment, an Alawite officer from Baarin, a village of Masyaf. He was known for his extremist Alawite sectarian orientations. He, in his turn, hugged me warmly, took my hand and escorted me to the office of the regiment commander. There, he pushed the door violently, and pushed me inside the office with a surprising force. Inside, there were three men, one of them sitting on top of a closet inside to the right of the door and the other two on both sides of the door. They were security men. Once I was in the office, the three of them jumped on me and started searching for arms, a pistol or a bomb. I had neither of these. I was full of fear and unable to understand what was going on.

They hand cuffed me…

I looked around to see two other company commanders, one of them was short. Later, he died under torture in the prison. The other was from the city of Ariha in Idlib. Both were handcuffed, faces to the wall. I asked those who attacked me: “What is the problem?” “Shhhh, keep silent, not a word, just stand near your colleagues!” I obeyed. They brought bags, put one on the head of each of the three of us and led us to a minibus.

They took us to “branch 261” the military intelligence branch in Homs. There, they put us in cars, and drove to “branch 293” the officers’ branch in Damascus.

In Damascus

In Damascus I realized that there were many detainees around. I couldn’t distinguish any of them until they removed the bags off our heads and replaced them with eye blinds. They were 59 Sunni officers from the regiment, eleven of them were company commanders, and the others were platoon commanders.

In “branch 293” they immediately led us on ladders to the basement, where there were cells each one is 75 * 60 cm, with a pot to be used as a toilet and a water tap. This means that one should spend all the time squatting.

Ten days passed, nobody asked me anything. I was totally tense, need to understand what is my charge? Where and why I am here?

After ten days, the door was opened, an eye blind was thrown at me to put it on. They handcuffed me and took me to an elevator which, I guess, climbed several levels. They took me to an interrogation room. There I saw a clock pointing at eleven, but I couldn’t realize whether it was day or night. One of the persons in the room, with civil clothes, said to another: “Sir …There is still only one hour to the end of the official time.” I understood that it was night.

Interrogation started. They took me down to the room of Shabeh, (which means suspension). There, I saw an old man being tortured by a soldier from Aleppo. He was treading on his body and cursing him. From time to time the soldier was summoned to take tea glasses to the offices. That means he is no more than a janitor given this detainee to “entertain” him.

I asked the old man about his charge. He said: “I am a brigadier general, commander of Marj al-Sultan air base.” which is a helicopter air field near Damascus. I was shocked and panicked. I said to myself, if this general is being tortured this way, what they will do with a little officer like me?

I looked around and saw a row of bathrooms, in each of them there was a man suspended from his hand cuffs to a pipe extended through all the cells. One can hardly touch the floor with his toes. This is suspension or in Arabic “Shabeh.” Some of them were bleeding from their wrists, others were weeping from severe pains. Once any of them tries to put his toes on the floor the cuffs will press his wrists. If he lifts himself up to ease the pain of his wrists his feet will swell. Horrific scenes. I realized that some of them had been suspended for a long time so their feet were swollen and their skins were bleeding.

They suspended me for 24 hours, after which they took me to the interrogation room again. There, one of them told another: “Take him to the Saloon.” They took me down to the “Saloon,” a corridor in which one stands hand cuffed in the middle, forbidden to rest on the walls. In the saloon there were four detained officers from our regiment and a civilian from Daraa. I asked him “What is your charge?” “Participating in demonstrations” he answered. He was yelling for help. When I asked why all the shouts, he said that the jailer prevented him from going to pee since yesterday, and at the same time was pressing him to drink water and threatening to beat him if he pees in his place.

I advised him to pee, he did it. When the jailer came back and saw him, he slapped him forcefully. He fell on the ground. The jailer wound his male organ with a rubber and forced him again to drink water.

We spent sixty days in the branch prison with a daily routine of beating and suspension. Once I was on the verge of unconsciousness, result of suspension with hands cuffed behind me. I started reading a verse from the Holy Quran which mean: “Who will aid the victim if he invokes to God and who will release him of pain.” Soon, a major called Samer, as I remember, approached me and put his foot in my mouth to silence me saying: “Whom are you calling? Who will release you from pain? Allah?  Who is Allah? Your God? Call him again to see how he will come to your aid! If he comes, I will punish him with you, I’ll suspend your God beside you if he comes here. Call him again, I am waiting for him.” A minute after, he went, head of the branch, Rafiq Shehadeh, came, asked me about my charge, ordered them to untie me and to take me to the dormitory.

After two months in the branch, I was transferred to Sednayah prison. I thought that it will be better there, but later I realized that real suffering would start after entering the Sednayah prison.

In Sednayah Prison

On January 4, 2012, fifty persons including me, were transported in a closed truck, say a trash container. In front of the truck, two members of the prison team ascended to the container to carry us one by one, hand cuffed, and throw us on the floor randomly, on the back, on the side, no difference, as if they were throwing bags of onion. Once in the prison, with continuous beating, they took our personal data and led us five by five to the wheel session of torture, completely naked.   Two jailors, one to the right, the other to the left, started beating the prisoners. When finished, three jailers transported them one by one, one holding the right leg, the second the left one, and the third draws him on the ground from his hands along a stair to a cell underground.

We spent twenty days in the cells. A jailer used to come to throw food to us as if throwing stones. Eggs fall on the ground, break out and scatter on the floor. We ate them because food was scarce. We were five officers in the cell. Every day a jailer brought two loaves of bread and two boiled eggs, sometimes with yoghurt on the bread, as if we were cats. Every time the jailer comes, he punishes us with the wheel. Torture in the cells was unbearable, we were totally nude in a very cold weather, Sednayah is known as a summer place. They gave each one of us three blankets full of lice, one of them is soaked with water. We didn’t use it. We used one as a mattress and the second as a cover.

In the Dormitory

Twenty days passed in the cells underground. Then we were told that they will move us to the dormitories upstairs and treat us as human beings. In case anyone violates the regulations he will be returned down to the solitary cells. At the door of the dormitory they beat us mercilessly and ordered us in. As in the cells, they used to throw food on the ground. we collected it and ate it. In spite of this, one can say that the prison was relatively “good” compared with what will happen in the following year and the year after. They used to beat us “only twice” weekly, and food quantities were satisfactory.

At the start of 2013 the massacre began. Prisoners started dying one after another. In our dormitory rarely a week passes with one or two cases of death, if not more.  Scabies and bugs spread densely. Torture increased after the prisoners had killed Talat Mahfouz, director of the prison, who was succeeded by a real criminal.

Liquidating prisoners started.

When we entered the dormitory, there were six prisoners, four from ar-Rastan, one from east of Hama, and the sixth, Ali Eissa, from ad-Dumayr. Ali Eissa had clashed with an Israeli patrol during the offensive on Gaza. He seemed to have a pronunciation problem. After we familiarized with him, he told me that he had spent eight months in a solitary cell with no one to talk to. So, he started losing pronunciation. He was stuttering and pronouncing unintelligible words. His colleagues in the cell told us later that they tried to help him pronounce letters properly, and he had relatively improved. This man was a hero.

After a few days they brought new prisoners, one of them was Rance al-Mosleh.

Rance al-Mosleh

He was major in his military training course: Specialization: Signal. He was delegated to Iran to follow a course there. Soon after he returned, he became victim to report writers, so he was arrested. He was a real man with the whole meaning of the word. When the jailer came and asked who wants to be prefect of the dormitory, all prisoners sneaked away. We all knew that destiny of the prefect is death because he will be target to the jailers. The jailer selected an old sick man to take this responsibility, Rance soon advanced himself as an alternative. A dormitory prefect knows well that he will be subject to merciless beating which may lead to death. When a jailer enters the dormitory he would stand at the door and shout: “Dormitory prefects,” or “Dormitory pimps,” or “dormitory pigs” …all of you, take off your clothes and keep the shorts,” then he would start beating them with a green PVC pipe used in plumbing, just for fun, then, he leaves.

Jailers ask prefects about the names of trouble makers. Rance usual reply was always “No rioters here.” And he was always beaten for this reply. In fact, there were no trouble makers among us, we even dare not breathe.  Often we told him to give certain names to evade being beaten and his typical answer always was: “We will die in a way or another. We are brought here to die. I will not be reason of torture to anybody. I don’t want anyone to stand in the day of judgement between the hands of Allah and say Rance oppressed me. Let them beat me to death.” Many times, we tried to convince him to evade beating, but he refused. Therefore, we decided to put a list of names of virtual rioters every Monday to be punished and to please the jailers. But the result was the same, jailers tortured them and Rance was not saved.

We were completely isolated from the outer world. We adamantly tried to know any news, but in vain. Even talking was prohibited. If a jailer comes and hears a whisper in the dormitory, he would beat all the prisoners. To communicate with each other we used signs. Rance’s wife used to send him little messages on small pieces of paper 5 * 2 cm, inserted with the rubber of the trousers she used to bring him. She used to write outlines of what is happening outside. Her news was confidential, but her visits were very rare, once every four months. In short, we all used to wait her visit to be informed about the developments in the outer world.

Routine of Visits

Jailers announce the names of those to be visited. The prisoner gets ready to go out of the dormitory and to be beaten to bleeding, and then to be drawn to a large hall, about 15 * 10 m, where all those lucky prisoners from all wards are crowded. In the hall there were two barbers, each with a machine to remove the hair of the detainees. Then the prisoner is escorted by two soldiers on the right and left and a third one behind him. He should stand in front of a mesh and the visitors stand behind another one. Between the two meshes a soldier walks to listen to the conversations. Before the visits, prisoners are advised to limit their talks to: “how are you? how is your health? I am fine, everything is alright, and so on.”

Items brought by the visitors do not go to the prisoners directly. They take them to a special section in the prison to be examined. Items of each prisoner are put in a bag with his name on it. All bags are inspected thoroughly. Once, they discovered news written on the inside of a piece of clothes. Jailers steal most of the prisoners’ items. If any of them was sent ten pieces, the jailer would give him only one saying: “One piece is enough for you” and he takes the rest!

Jailers know nothing about washing clothes.  Visits were allowed to twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays, and each time they confiscate the new clothes brought to the prisoners and give them the old ones they were wearing.

Once, Rance was called for a visit, he returned “worn out” with his mouth full of blood. They dropped him in the dormitory and left. We all ran to know the news from the paper in his trousers. He pulled the rubber, took the letter, read it and put it on his chest. We asked him about news, he said: “No news, it is private.”

To speak about military hierarchy, I precede Rance in two courses. In Syrian military terminology I am his grandfather, i.e. I am senior to him. We had a good relation, which encouraged me to insist on asking him about the content of the letter he received. He said “Nothing important.” And that was all. We used to recite the Holy Quran before sunset. In that day we read “al-Waqia (surah)” by heart. Again, I asked him about the content of the letter.

It was normal for those who receive visitors to return and say that they were told everything is alright and good and shortly we will be released from prison, even though their visitors did not say anything like that. They do it to raise the morals of the prisoners and help them conquer the fatal frustration they suffer. Rance always used to do that. He always said that prisoners suffer from unusual pressures, they do not need to hear bad news. Every time he returned from a visit, he used to say that his visitors hinted that the regime will fall, the Assad will be removed, and all prisoners would be set free.  A breakthrough is on the track.

I insisted on him to tell me about the letter he received, he looked at me cordially and said: Look my “grandpa” …when I was arrested, my daughter Fatima was nine months old. Today my wife told me that she began to walk, and started calling my father: “Papa.” His tears ran out on his cheeks. His father was a brigadier general in the air defense corps, he cared for the child after his son was arrested.

The situation was utterly emotional. I started consoling him and at the same time remember my two sons: Omar and Ali, how I used to take them to our farm, and to teach them swimming in the stream near the well. I always asked myself: “How are they now?”

Sickness and the Hospital

One day, Rance was very ill. A prison doctor came to examine him. Imagine, the doctor who came to treat him began beating him! He knocked him on his mouth, two teeth fell down and he was referred to the hospital because he had tuberculosis or asthma, I don’t remember. He was transferred to Tishreen military hospital. We waited his return to know any news from the outer world. When he returned, he told us the story of his medication: “patients were transported by a vehicle assigned to carry trash. When we arrived in the hospital a soldier gave each one of us an Aspirin tablet. They put us in the vehicle again and returned us back. On the way to and from the hospital beating did not stop.”

Once a prisoner from our ward was taken to the hospital. When he returned we discovered how fine we were. He told us that the situation in other wards is much worse than in ours. One of the patients discovered dry vomiting from another patient on the floor of the vehicle, he scraped it and ate it out of a chronic hunger!

Scabies plagued many prisoners in other wards due to absence of cleanliness. Until then we were saved from this plague which will sweep all wards of the prison later and kill many prisoners. When Rance was moved to the hospital he picked the plague from one of the patients and carried it to us. Two or three days after his return he started to scratch his body. In a few days we all were infected. We scratched our bodies to bleeding, then painful abscesses covered our bodies. Scabies pains plagued us all. When asking jailers for medicines they started beating us.

Despite his good manners, some of our colleagues blamed Rance for carrying the disease, avoided sitting with him or eating with him! He was patient and kept silent in his difficult status. Gradually he began losing weight until he became a skeleton.

One day, he fell on the ground with only his eyes moving. We realized that he was dying. The following day we told the jailer that Rance had died. He said: “wrap him in a blanket” we shrouded Rance and put him near the door. The jailer said: “He didn’t die yet. Leave him here.”  In the afternoon, he came with another one and took him away.


Prelude the book

Part 1   Part 2    Part 3