In this article a Syrian gives an opinion on torture in the Syrian state, in the region, and on behalf of the United States. The article responds to western propaganda used to justify US-NATO policies to remove Bashar al-Assad in a foreign 'regime-change'. Note that Bashar al-Assad was legally, popularly and resoundingly elected, so the Syrian Government should not be referred to as a 'regime'. The foreign intervention which has supported mercenaries and terrorists in a so far unsuccesful plan for 'regime-change' makes it difficult for Syrians to write under their own names. Their own lives and those of their families could suffer reprisals. Hence this article is anonymous. The article was initially a response to correspondence under Sean Stinson's article "Aleppo has been liberated, so why isn’t anyone talking about it?" on the Australian Independent Media Network
Reality: Before the events of 2011, serious torture existed, in small numbers, in Syrian prisons. Humiliation (often bordering on torture) was widespread. Most Americans believe torture was justified after 9/11 (where 3,000 Americans died). In Syria, we have a savage war… 200,000 Syrians have died. It wouldn’t be surprising that today many Syrians also believe torture (by their favorite side of the conflict) is legitimate. This corrupting of people’s values takes place during conflicts and the best way to confront it is to end those conflicts, not through propaganda stunts.
When the conflict ends, the two easiest starting points for those looking for positive momentum for a reform process are 1) ending torture and 2) fighting corruption. I am confident that a large majority of Syrians will enthusiastically call for both." Camille Alexander Otrakji, Ten new year resolution ideas for a healthier American role in Syria and the Middle East in 2015 | Part III of a discussion with Ambassador Robert Ford, Wednesday, December 31st, 2014.
Torture in jails, in most countries of this planet, through most eras of history and current history, is a natural horrible act that almost every jail officer does when they want to know hidden secrets from people they believe are dangerous criminals. There is torturing in the US, or by US officers in other parts of the world; by British in Iraq; by Arabs, by Israelis... Even states like Canada, Australia, and the Scandinavian states would have such incidents pop up in the media from time to time, and we can trace such atrocities 50 years ago in their archives.
Back to Syria, does it have a notorious history in torturing in jails? Yes, there are arguments as to whether there were few or many victims.
Did some people lose their lives in Syrian jails through acts of torture? Yes. It happens in crisis times (like in the 80's after the Muslim Brotherhood fighting era).
Were some of these victims innocents? Yes, but not as exaggerated.
Comparing prisons and torture in other Middle Eastern countries
But, what is the reputation on Turkish jails? Worse than the Syrian.
The Jordanians'? Worse.
The Iraqis'? Egyptian's? So bad.
What about the Saudi's? Horrible.
The Israelis'? Beyond discussion.
What I'm trying to say? It's one of the repulsive cultural attitudes that run in the blood of the people and the political officials of that whole region (among so many others around the world). It's so similar to that dangerous habit of shooting in the air in celebrations and funerals (the oldest act I read about so far goes back to WWI, when rabble and mobs were shooting bullets in the air in the Levant). Bashar al-Assad asked the soldiers so many times to stop that dangerous habit and save the bullets to use against the terrorists. Hasan Nasrallah begged his fans over and over again, and threatened any Hezbollah member to kick him out of the Resistance if he shot bullets in the air; yet, it runs in the blood of the ordinary people and fans. It seems that it's so hard to stop or control it no matter what.
It's similar with the act of torture. It's something I'm not proud of at all, but it is normalised in investigations, as it's the only way to know what this or that criminal is hiding.
I still remember a cartoon in a local newspaper in Dubai in 2003 after the fall of Baghdad. It was made up of two sketches. The first shows pre-2003, where there is an officer who looks like Saddam Hussein torturing a person in a jail. The next one shows after 2003, where that old victim has become the new jail officer, and he's torturing the old officer in the same way. In other words: Nothing has changed! Perhaps, Hezbollah after the Lebanese civil war is one - if not the only one - of the rare exceptions, because they don't use those tactics. (They did use torture in the civil war, though, like all the other militias of the time).
Who gets tortured?
Torture against whom? Acts of torture are usually not against people who do individual criminal acts (stealing money, raping, even murdering for personal reasons...etc). Torture ia done to dangerous people whom investigators believe have an agenda, or that they are part of something bigger (terrorism, agents for enemies, spies, funded by other intelligence organizations, people who are preparing for a political coup-d'etat...etc). Those are the kinds of people who tend to be tortured, as it's the only way the old school investigators know to discover what secrets the criminals are hiding.
The Near East was under the control of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, and all the previous empires that ruled that area were famous for torturing. It's mentioned in all the history books. Syrian governments before the Assad family came to power also carried out torture.
I want to say that these horrible acts are not reliant on the Assad family. Anyone who rules after Assad will carry out the same acts of toture. We have enough examples of what Syrian terrorists (opposition gangs of 'rebels' and mercenaries) did to captured Syrian soldiers in the last 5.5 years. They murdered people under torture and in front of cameras and published those films for the world to see.
Ironically, some Syrian people today remember the old torturing days of the Syrian Mukhabarat (intelligence officers), and wish for the old days to come back! I mean, they regret how they used to criticize that horrible acts of the time, in comparison to what they have gone through in this current crisis. The old atrocities in Syrian jails seem to them like a piece of cake compared to the practices of Nusra, Da'esh, and the rest of the terrorists.
The colonial and neo-colonial context
Syria and other Middle Eastern states have needed to be pretty firm in government to avoid being overturned by foreign powers and states. The late Syrian president, Hafiz al-Asad, was Bashar al-Asad's father. Hafiz was pretty tough against the enemies of the state. During his time, people complained about that iron fist. Today, people bless his soul when remembering him, and wish he was alive to terminate all these terrorists and be merciless against them. Many Syrians today blame Bashar al-Asad of being "too good" and "naive" in dealing with the crisis. Hafiz was tough against the Muslim Brotherhood's (MB) terrorism in (1979-1982), and many innocent people died while crushing the Muslim Brotherhood movement, and many innocent people went to jails, but that toughness saved Syria for three decades and made it one of the most secured countries around the globe.
When Bashar came to power in Syria, he wanted to make peace with all the political prisoners. He began to set them free, one after the other, both the radical Muslim Brotherhoods and the radical Leftists (Communists, Socialists, Democrats, etc.). Many Syrians today say that those criminals should never have left the jails in the first place because many of them have stabbed the government and the president's reputation in the back when they have had the opportunity to do so. They never thought about the state infrastructure, they thought only about taking revenge.
Lack of evidence that Bashar committed crimes the west accuses him of
"There is also plenty of evidence of [Assad] doing this to his own people." Miriam English,December 20, 2016 at 8:40 am, explaining why she thinks Bashar al-Assad is not a good guy in a discussion following Sean Stinson's article "Aleppo has been liberated, so why isn’t anyone talking about it?" on the Australian Independent Media Network.
Did Bashar al-Assad order the police officers to torture criminals? NO.
Did he torture any criminal (or civilian) himself? Absolutely Not.
Where is the evidence of him doing this to his own people"?
"I don’t know why USA turned on former best friend Assad, but it certainly wasn’t because he was a nasty person. They’d known that for ages and it suited them fine. I suspect it was something to do with Russia or Iran and oil/gas." Miriam English,December 20, 2016 at 8:40 am, explaining why she thinks Bashar al-Assad is not a good guy in a discussion following Sean Stinson's article "Aleppo has been liberated, so why isn’t anyone talking about it?" on the Australian Independent Media Network.
Was Bashar al-Assad (or even his late father) a "best friend" to the US? That is not accurate! The following diagrams are from Camille Alexander Otrakji's articles: http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/cycles_syria.jpg This is a record of American-Syrian relations since 1970. It shows the ups and fowns between them.
And http://creativesyria.com/syriapage/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/English-syria-recent-relations-history-chart1.jpg this schedule as well shows the relation between the two sides was hostile for 52% of the time between 1967-2017. (The schedule goes up to 2013, but nothing changed between 2013 and today on that subject). Relations were 24% Normal, and 26% Friendly, mostly not in Bashar al-Assad's era.
They had a type of normalization from time to time, but Syria remained on the U.S.'s "Axis of Evil" list for decades. So, when were the US and Bashar al-Assad "best friends"?
Syria wants to make good relations with the US, but they don't trust the Americans because of their blind support for Syria's enemy - Israel. So, Syria has preferred to depend on many smaller regional and international powers instead of depending on a sole superpower like the US, that it can't trust.
What about foreign intelligence relations?
Were there relations between the CIA and the Syrian intelligence? Of course, there were, and perhaps there still are today. There have been secret meetings between the French, Saudi, Turkish, and Jordanian intelligence officials from one side with the Syrian intelligence officials on the other side within the current years of crisis. The Syrian government has often mentioned that "these states are cursing us daily in front of the media, and asking us to secretly coordinate with them. We decided not to work and coordinate with them until they ceased their publicly hostile rhetoric and making war on us, and until they open their embassies in Damascus.
What about the "Extraordinary Rendition" act between the US and Syria? It's possible, but not so sure. We all heard of the Canadian Syrian Maher Arar's case between Canada, the US, and Syria after 9/11.
By the way, Maher Arar has gone on to show support for the terrorists in Syria since 2011. This seems to me like another example of vengefulness overwhelming concern for the consequences for Syria. [I've rewritten this in a calm way and as your opinion; works better I think.]
Did other incidents like the one with Maher Arar happen many times? Did they happen a few times? Were such things taking place all the time? I really have doubts about all of that. We have to keep in mind that what happened in 9/11 can't be compared to any other crisis before and after that date. So, the anomalous situation inclines me to think that such "renditions" only happened in the first couple of years after 9/11.
It's documented that Syrian intelligence helped the CIA to capture real terrorists between 2001 and 2003. Arar's issue was in that short period. This has been mentioned in the Colin Powell discussions with Bashar al-Assad after the invasion of Iraq, where Assad reminded Powell of the services and information the Syrian government gave to the US which led to the safety of American people's lives, and Powell thanked him for it. (Yet, Powell gave a list of requests to Assad by that time, which were understood as "American bullying and threats").
I hope Otrakji's and my answers help to understand the situation. I was always so proud of the Syrian foreign policies, and so ashamed of the Syrian internal policies (mainly corruption). But that has nothing to do with the current crisis.
I'm supporting the Syrian Army and Bashar al-Assad in this global war on Syria. Once that war ends, then I can criticize him and his actions like any other president of this world. Now is not the right time to be divided on who's the good, the bad, and the ugly in this war.