July 3, 2012

Air Force Inte­­lligence Directorate

Director: Maj. Gen. Jamil Hassan[93]

  

Mezzeh Airport Branch – Damascus [94]

Officers in charge of facility:

  • Brig. Gen. Abdul Salam Fajr Mahmoud (director of investigative branch)[95]

Location:

Coordinates: 33.484886N, 36.223209E

Mezzeh military airport, southwest of central Damascus.

Documented Methods of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Beating; beating with object; shabeh; electrocution; threat to detainee; dulab; falaqa, burning with hot water and acid.

General COmments

The Mezzeh airport branch of the Air Force Intelligence contains at least three detention facilities, including a hangar. Former detainees described one of the detention facilities, possibly the building of the investigative branch, as a large, white, one-floor, flat building, with barbed wire on surrounding walls. There were two underground floors with low ceilings. The first underground floor held collective cells, while the second underground floor held at least twelve individual cells and a large room used for torture. Former detainees and defectors said that detainees were usually gathered in a yard before they were taken to the detention facilities. The yard was also used as a place for torture.

Many of the former detainees at Mezzeh airport came from Damascus city suburbs or nearby towns such as Douma and al-Mu`damiyyeh. But Human Rights Watch has also documented the presence of detainees in Mezzeh airport from other areas, such as Daraa. Several former detainees said that they were transferred to or from the army’s 4th Division base, which is located close by.

  

Statements by victims and eyewitnesses:

I saw people being tortured there both when I was detained and when I worked there. The mildest form of torture is hitting people with batons on their arms and legs and not giving them anything to eat or drink. Then they would hang the detainees from the ceiling by their hands, sometimes for hours or days. I saw it while I was talking to the interrogators. They used electric stun-guns and an electroshock machine, an electric current transformer. It is a small machine with two wires with clips that they attach to nipples and a knob that regulates the current. In addition, they put people in coffins and threatened to kill them and close the coffin. People were wearing underwear. They pour hot water on people and then whip them. I’ve also seen drills there, but I’ve never seen them being used. I’ve also seen them using martial arts moves, like breaking ribs with a knee kick. They put pins under your feet and hit you so that you step on them. I also heard them threatening to cut off the detainees’ penises.

—Rami, who was an officer at the Air Force Intelligence base at the Mezzeh Airport and was later detained there. He defected in August 2011.[96]

***

I participated in escorting detainees from the protests to the yard at the Air Force Intelligence base, and then to the detention facilities. In the yard we started beating people randomly, without asking them any questions. We brought wounded people to the same yard and beat them as well. We had one doctor in the branch. Somebody would ask the guards to take one of the detainees to the doctor, and the guards would be beating him on the way. In the gym area [close to the investigation branch] the guards used to hang detainees by their hands, give them electric shocks, or beat them with whips. I could see it when I dropped off the detainees. I couldn’t even sit in my office, which was close to the gym, because of the sounds of torture.

—Jad, who served on the Air Force Intelligence base in Mezzeh for 1.5 years before he defected in August 2011.[97]

***

They hung me up in the shabeh position three times. The first time I was hanging for eight hours, handcuffed to the wall and pulled up. After a while I lost consciousness. The two other times they hung me for two to three hours.

They hit us with electric prods and cable wires. They also threw acid from a car battery on my leg. They made me lay down, handcuffed to the table. Then they would bring the feet to my face and beat the soles of my feet. They also used the tire method. They forced my feet, hands, and head through the tire, they flipped me on the back and beat the soles of my feet. They also handcuffed my hands under the knee and used a stick to hang me up between two beds. They kept me like this for one or two hours, once or twice a day for four days.

—Forty-eight-year-old Zakhya, who was detained in the Damascus governorate on May 28. Human Rights Watch saw scars on his legs, allegedly from the use of acid.[98]

  

Bab Touma Branch – Damascus[99]

Location:

Coordinates: 33.517811N, 36.313969E

Between Al Manama Street and Gibran Khalil Street, close to Tahrir Square.

Documented Methods of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Beating; beating with object; electrocution; dulab; balanco; shabeh; burning with cigarettes.

General Comments:

According to a former detainee who spent five months in the old department building in the Bab Touma branch of the Air Force Intelligence, the facility consists of 43 individual cells, each holding up to three people, and two group detention rooms, each holding up to 90 people.[100]

  

Statements by victims and eyewitnesses:

Three days after I was detained they took me to see the interrogator. Before entering the interrogation room they slapped, beat, and kicked me with their black boots, used an electric stun-gun on me, extinguished cigarettes on my back, and stepped on me.

During my detention I once fainted because I was very thirsty. A nurse who barely knew how to provide medical care came to check on me, but instead of helping me he started beating and slapping me to wake up. The nurses always had a wooden stick in their hands in case the officers needed support to torture the prisoners. I saw officers torturing over 30 men with thick wooden sticks, electric stun-guns, and balanco while I was tied in the courtyard. They tied and hung me from my hands with my legs lose and my toes were half a centimeter above the ground. They also tortured me with the tire method.

—Bashir, a medical student who was arrested at Damascus University on August 22 and spent five months in detention.[101]

  

Daraa Branch[102]

Officers in charge of facility:

  • Col. Qusay Mihoub (from Damascus; sent to Daraa at the beginning of protests to oversee operations there)[103]

Location:

Coordinates: 32.622852N, 36.124829E

Documented Methods of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Beating; beating with object.

General comments:

The Air Force Intelligence Branch in Daraa has an underground detention facility with at least one cell measuring about 16 square meters. One detainee estimated the cell contained 130 people when he was detained there in June 2011.[104]

  

Statements by victims and eyewitnesses:

I went to the funeral at the cemetery. After the security forces let us out of the cemetery, they opened fire. I just laid down. The shooting continued for 10 to 15 minutes. Afterwards, when I stood up somebody hit me in the back of my head with a stick. I fell down, but they continued to beat me. They hit me over the eye with a stick.

When I woke up I was in the Air Force Intelligence branch. There were four people in the cell. I was then taken out of the cell and beaten in the corridor. They then took me to an open yard outside where they beat me for two hours before they brought me back to the cell and then transferred me to another branch.

Twenty-three-year-old Fahim, who was beaten until he lost consciousness at a funeral in Daraa on August 8. He spent three days in detention.[105]

For a couple of hours we waited and then they started interrogating us one by one in a solitary cell with two other people. They then took me to a torture room.

It was a room underground. There was a chair where the interrogator sat, and a table. Two people in the room were beating me with a one-meter long cable with metal wire inside and plastic on the outside, accusing me of taking part in the protests and of carrying weapons. I was on my knees with hands behind my back. The other one was using his boot to beat me on the mouth. I was bleeding. They showed me a picture of Bashar Assad and asked who it was? I said, “The president.” They said, “No, it is God.” One of them put a boot on my neck and the other shoved the photo under my nose. This lasted for about an hour.

Then they took me back to the cell where there were about 130 people. The cell measured four by four meters. People were on top of each other, standing, lying, etc. About 10 of the 130 were not severely beaten. Clearly one of them was a spy, but we didn’t know which one. They told us, “Welcome to the Air Force Intelligence. Here you will lose your faith in God.”

—Marwan, who was arrested at his house in the Dael town in the Daraa governorate in June. He stayed one night in the Air Force Intelligence branch before he was transferred to another detention facility.[106]

  

Homs branch [107]

Officers in charge of facility:

Location:

Coordinates: 34.750208N, 36.714788E

By the Jawiya Roundabout, in front of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Documented Methods of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Beating; beating with object; threats to detainee; stress positions; dulab.

  

Statements by victims and eyewitnesses

They took us to the Air Force Intelligence branch [in Homs]. We were six in one cell. The bathroom was outside and we were allowed to use it twice a day. They would count, “One, two, three,” and you had to finish. If not, you would get the dulab. They put you in the tire and beat you with a baton. It is unreal. It can’t be explained. Even today, three months later, my legs still have marks. They started beating me and accusing me of shooting at the school. They tie you and pull you with a rope and they beat you. You can just move your head, and you are blindfolded. They were threatening me, saying I should confess that I was carrying weapons, shooting at the army and checkpoints.

—Toufiq, who was arrested on August 22, 2011.[109]

  

Latakia Branch [110]

Officers in charge of facility:

  • Col. Suhail Al-Abdullah

Location:

Coordinates: 35.529489N, 35.799074E

Documented Methods of Torture and Ill-Treatment

Beating; beating with object; electrocution; falaqa; dulab; threats; sexual abuse.

General Comments:

The Air Force Intelligence Branch in Latakia has a detention facility underground.

  

Statements by victims and eyewitnesses:

The interrogator ordered me to tell him everything. I told him I don’t know anything, but if he has questions I will answer. He asked the officers to take me away to teach me a lesson and then bring me back. The officers took me to the adjacent room. They started hitting me until I fell on the ground. They made me lie on my back and put my legs inside the tire and then pushed my head and my hands inside the tire as well. They then started hitting me with an iron stick on my knees. Afterwards they poured water on my legs and took me to see the interrogator. I later found out that they poured the water in order for the blood to circulate again through my legs.

I don’t know for how long they hit me. There were two people hitting me. The interrogator repeated the same questions which I didn’t have answers for. He told the guards to take me to the cell and told me to ask my cell mates what will happen to me if I don’t tell him everything I know. They took me to the prison cell without my clothes and poured water on the ground so that I couldn’t sit or sleep.

—Chahid, who was arrested at his house on May 20, 2011.[111]

***

We went upstairs one floor to the office of the director of the branch. His deputy started asking me questions. Why was I there? He accused me of going to demonstrations and said that someone was paying me money to go to demonstrations. That I work in weapons smuggling and for Hariri [Saad Hariri, former prime minister of Lebanon]. I denied it.

Then they took me down to the interrogation room for torture. It was one floor underground. They tied me to an electricity chair. They were asking the same questions and cursing and beating me. They hit me with their hands and feet and there was a battery with a cable that was connected to my finger.

[Later] they hit the bottoms of my feet with a stick. There was a thick belt tied around my legs so that I couldn’t move them. I was lying with my face on the ground and my feet up. There were two people beating me with a silicon stick. One was standing on my neck. You prefer death. You hope to die. The entire time I was in detention my family knew nothing about me. They didn’t know whether I was dead or alive.

—Fadi, who was detained around April 2011 when he went to the Air Force Intelligence branch seeking information about his missing relative.[112]

***

[At the Air Force Intelligence branch in Latakia] they took me downstairs, two sets of stairs with a turn. Each 15 steps … I couldn’t see and my hands were tied [I was naked]. We were in the interrogation room. They were beating me for the first hour with their hands. Then they used a wood baton. I didn’t confess. The interrogator said, “Bring me the electricity.”... The guard brought two electric prongs. He put one in my mouth, on my tooth. Then he started turning it on and off quickly. He did this seven or eight times. I thought, this is it. I am not going to leave this branch.

Then they started asking, “Will you confess now?” I said I had nothing to confess to. They removed the electricity from my tooth and put it on my knees. Here they used the electricity the longest. It is still marked. They would put it on for a long time and then take it off. They started torturing me here (gesturing toward his genitalia) [with the electricity]. They were also beating me and there was a guard behind me turning the electricity on. I passed out. They were beating me and shocking me. The interrogator was beating me with a cable over my whole body. I still didn’t have any clothes on … They asked me every thirty minutes if I would confess. I said no. At a point they said “We will kill you,” and I said, “Ok, ok. Kill me. Death is better than the torture you are putting me through.” When he shocks you the electricity hits your whole body. I was there for hours. They had to carry me on a mattress to the cell. I couldn’t walk after that.

—Salim, who was arrested in June 2011 while on a two day break from his military service.[113]

 

[93] The Council of the European Union imposed travel restrictions and an asset freeze on Jamil Hassan on May 9, 2011, for being “involved in the repression against the civilian population” in Syria. Council Regulation (EU) No 442/2011 of 9 May 2011.

[94] Human Rights Watch interviewed nine people who suffered or witnessed torture in this facility.

[95] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayid, June 20, 2012; Rami, October 28, 2011.

[96] Human Rights Watch interview with Rami, October 28, 2011.

[97] Human Rights Watch interview with Jad, November 1, 2011.

[98] Human Rights Watch interview with Zakhya, October 29, 2011.

[99] Human Rights Watch interviewed two people who suffered or witnessed torture in this facility.

[100] Human Rights Watch interview with Bashir, January 25, 2012.

[101] Human Rights Watch interview with Bashir, January 25, 2012.

[102] Human Rights Watch interviewed three people who suffered or witnessed torture in this facility.

[103] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayid, June 20, 2012.

[104] Human Rights Watch interview with Marwan, November 1, 2011.

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Fahim, November 3, 2011.

[106] Human Rights Watch interview with Marwan, November 1, 2011.

[107] Human Rights Watch interviewed two people who suffered or witnessed torture in this facility.

[108] Human Rights Watch interview with Sayid, June 20, 2012.

[109] Human Rights Watch interview with Toufiq, November 23, 2011.

[110] Human Rights Watch interviewed three people who suffered or witnessed torture in this facility.

[111] Human Rights Watch interview with Chahid, October 27, 2011.

[112] Human Rights Watch interview with Fadi, January 10, 2012.

[113] Human Rights Watch interview with Salim, January 12, 2012.