Since the beginning of the Syrian revolution, images have leaked out showing security officers abusing those arrested and detained. The intentions behind such images are very different from the photos of maimed bodies taken by the victim’s relatives, after they died, and after the torturers and killers had fled from the scene. In the [security officers’] images, the abuse is direct and live in front of our eyes, and serves a different purpose.
During the past few days we have seen an increase in such images, in terms of both frequency and content. The images have varied from severe beatings, torture and humiliation on a bus, in a cell, on the side of a road, or even in a classroom where the detainees turn into students on seats, receiving blows in succession. It became apparent that those who inflict the pain upon them want to appear unequivocal in front of the camera. In a leaked film shot on a bus, a group of men are shown dressed in military uniforms, whilst one of them kicks a youth who has been tied up. Beside him we find another member of the military, carrying a mobile phone and filming the scene.
[In another incident], a group of detainees lay piled up on the ground, after they had been trodden and stamped on. Then, a group of soldiers began standing on their bodies, as if they were about to dance on the backs of those bound and heaped on the ground. They smiled for the picture and the photographer, just as the American soldiers did in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. They were celebrating the scene of violence they had produced.
The Abu Ghraib scenes were blamed on a Western culture of violence, but the rationale behind the images filmed by the Syrian Shabiha is puzzling indeed. What prompts these people to film and photograph these scenes?
It is likely that the people closest to the victims will be hurt and humiliated, just like all of us were when we saw the pictures. These images of torture inflict the Syrians and the wider world with a sense of raw shame.
The question now turns to the enthusiasm displayed by these wretched people in capturing their images and committing their crimes. But they are not pathological individuals. We are facing an entire regime and apparatus with an ideological mindset that has fostered this ferocity. The mindset of the Syrian security services, when it comes to dealing with the popular revolution, has been devoted to the logic of indiscriminate violence. Could we forget that the revolution started in Daraa after a group of boys from the city were tortured?
The fact is that we [as viewers] have suffered a form of abuse and humiliation from what we have seen, and this could be the motive for the perpetrators to broadcast it. The direct victims of torture are already victims, but the evil minds are also trying to turn the viewer into a victim. The intention is not to intimidate the Syrian viewer, but rather the Arab viewer and the global viewer, who stand in solidarity with the revolution in Syria. After seeing these images, we are meant to fear for the Syrians, just as they are meant to fear for themselves.
Yet the Syrians themselves have nullified this technique through their determination and steadfastness. This is useful for us who are outside the boundaries of the tragedy, and we must do likewise. We must not tremble at the banality of violence, and convert it into a commodity. We must show that it no longer works to send a vile message through people’s pain.