Syria, Assad, Human Rights Watch : The Two-Way The watchdog group says interviews with hundreds of former detainees and defectors show that an "archipelago of torture centers" has been created. Opponents of the Assad regime report being beaten, sexually assaulted and subjected to mock executions.
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'Torture Centers' Stretch Across Syria, Human Rights Watch Reports

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'Torture Centers' Stretch Across Syria, Human Rights Watch Reports

'Torture Centers' Stretch Across Syria, Human Rights Watch Reports

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The group Human Rights Watch has documented what it calls an archipelago of torture centers - 27 of them - run by Syrian intelligence agencies. The widespread systematic torture of detainees, according to Human Rights Watch, amounts to a crime against humanity. The evidence comes from more than 200 interviews over the past year with former detainees and with defectors from Syria's security forces.

Their descriptions are graphic and by their nature, deeply disturbing. Researcher Nadim Houry conducted many of those interviews for Human Rights Watch and he joins me from Beirut. Mr. Houry, welcome to the program.

NADIM HOURY: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: I wonder if you might detail the kinds of torture that these detainees describe to you in these interviews.

HOURY: Sure. The report we documented more than 20 types of torture, the most common ones are something called in Syria, the dulab(ph), which means tire. They put the detainee in the tire so they cannot move and then they proceed to beat the detainee with all sorts of batons, sticks, cables.

BLOCK: And when you say they put them in the tire, you have illustrations of this. The victim is basically folded in half and put inside a tire.

HOURY: Exactly. So it's a way of immobilizing the detainee while, at the same time, causing great stress to their back. Another method is what's called in Syria shabha(ph), the ghost, where they suspend the detainee sometimes for up to 10 or 12 hours from the ceiling just by their arms and their toes barely touching the ground. And then, they can proceed to beat them, throw cold water at them, or even use electricity.

BLOCK: And the list of means of torture goes on and on. You describe attacks with electric shock and acid, sexual assault, pulling out of fingernails, mock execution. Did you see physical evidence of these torture methods that you describe?

HOURY: Yes. Many of the people we've interviewed still have the scars even months after they were out of detention. Others, you know, had moved on, in terms of physical harm, but were clearly psychologically very much still in pain.

BLOCK: Your report says that the detainees were mostly young men, but also women and children. And we're about to hear the voice of a 14-year-old interviewed by Human Rights Watch. He's describing the torture that he endured.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking foreign language)

BLOCK: What he's describing there, having his fingernails pulled out with pliers. Another detainee talked about an 8-year-old boy that he saw being beaten. Broadly speaking, what were these victims detained for? Where were they picked up?

HOURY: Usually, from the protests, some of them in house raids. So the intelligence service has had informants telling them so and so is against the government or so and so is financing some opposition members or helping them or providing any sort of logistical support. And so they would come. And if they don't find the person, they sometimes take family members and this is why we found, for example, someone who was over 70.

He was the father and his two grown-up boys were actually wanted by the security services for their activism. They couldn't find them. They took the father and beat the father instead.

BLOCK: You know, some of the most revealing descriptions, I think, come from defectors from these security services, intelligence agencies. You mentioned a member of the riot police, another who described the death of detainees from beatings and one who said if you don't beat or torture, you fear for yourself.

HOURY: Exactly. I think the defectors provided key information. They helped us identify the officers in charge of many of these detention facilities and when we were able to verify this from multiple sources, we published these names. And we want, eventually, these names to be used in possible prosecution in the future before the International Criminal Court or any sort of other credible judicial process.

BLOCK: Your report also names specifically the 27 detention or torture centers themselves, also says there may be many more. You pinpoint them on maps. What's the intention there? What is Human Rights Watch calling on the international community to do about these places?

HOURY: Well, look, we know the U.N. monitors are still in Syria. We want them to go visit these buildings. We want them to be able to drive up and say, we want go down to the basements and see who you have in there. And by showing where these detention facilities are, we hope we will make it easier for the U.N. monitors and others to go. And this would only happen if there is enough international pressure in the form of a Security Council resolution calling on Syria, forcing Syria to cooperate.

BLOCK: Nadim Houry, thank you for talking with us.

HOURY: Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: Nadim Houry directs the Human Rights Watch Beirut office. We were talking about their new report on torture in Syria.

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