Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Monster and his Jailer - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Photo: AFP

Photo: AFP

Sidon, Asharq Al-Awsat—Mohammed could not believe his eyes when he suddenly met his former Syrian jailer in Sidon. The man who used to torture Mohammed in Syria had fled to Lebanon following the unrest in his country, Syria.

The Lebanese man is known in his neighborhood as Wahsh, a nickname that literally means “monster” in Arabic, but without the negative connotation it has in English. Finally, the opportunity has come for Wahsh to take revenge on Hikmat, his jailer in Sednaya Prison in Syria 19 years before.

They ran into each other by accident on one of Sidon’s side streets, a meeting which suddenly turned into a brawl. Soon, locals from the neighborhood and passers-by gathered in the middle of the street, watching and waiting to find out how Wahsh would take revenge on the one who had tortured him for two years in Syria.

“We were talking when, all of the sudden, Mohammed’s eyes were fixed on Hikmat, a man from Syria who recently came to Lebanon after fighting escalated in his country. He lives alone in a rented house. Hikmat entered [my] shop and saluted us, but when he saw Mohammed his color changed and he quickly ran off. Mohammed followed him and a scuffle ensued,” Ali, a friend of Wahsh, told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Mohammed earned his nickname after joining a Palestinian organization at the age of 11. In 1980, he joined Iraq’s Ba’ath Party. He was also imprisoned in Israel for a year and a half year before he was released in a detainee swap. Following his return from Israel, he was arrested again and taken to prison in Syria.

Ali rapidly concluded the conversation with Asharq Al-Awsat because he did not want to miss the “long-awaited” fight. He turned his head to watch Wahsh ruthlessly beating Hikmat.

A stranger intervened and asked Ali: “For God’s sake, why don’t you separate the two!? They will kill each other while you are watching!”

Ali answered: “Wahsh has been waiting for 19 years to take revenge; let Wahsh teach him a hard lesson.”

Mohammed’s shouts were mixed with tears. He spoke to his jailer in a language only those who experienced detention and torture in Syria would understand.

“You broke my back in the Al-Kursi Al-Almani . . . . You have used every Dulab with me,” Mohammed was shouting angrily at Hikmat, referring to the ways he was tortured in Sednaya.

Hikmat was begging him to stop the beating, saying, “I am a servant; I have nothing to do with it.”

Tired of beating his jailer, Mohammed sat on the sidewalk, weeping over life wasted in the dungeons of torture. The scars still cover his body.

Everyone was staring at Mohammed while Ali was looking for some young men to help Wahsh into the shop. There, he told us about his painful memories in Syria. He took a deep breath and a sip of grapefruit juice—Mohammed always comes to Ali’s shop to drink the juice, because it is good for his diabetes—before recalling his years of torment in Syrian prisons.

“They tortured me brutally because I opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon,” he said.

He lapsed into silence for a while, as if he wanted to pull himself together before telling his story about the Syrian intelligence.

“I was a member of Iraq’s Ba’ath Party and supported the Iraqi war against Iran. When Syrian influence returned to Lebanon in the early 1990s, I could not stand it. I attacked the Syrian invasion of my country with all peaceful means.”

“One day, I was surprised by the Lebanese intelligence raiding my house and arresting me, along with 11 other people. We were taken to Muhammad Zougeib barracks in Sidon. The next morning, we were handed over to the Syrian intelligence headquarters in Damascus to be investigated in the assassination of the Iraqi opposition figure, Talib Al-Suhail Al-Tamimi, known for his allegiance to Syria.”

Following investigations, Mohammed was imprisoned at Sednaya for two years. He will never forget the number 10—his cell number. It was a “red hell,” he says. “It was a 3.5 by 3 meter [11.5 by 10 foot] cell housing 58 people. We had to squat, because every prisoner was allowed only one tile and a half of space. We caught scabies and insects sucked our blood.”

While in prison, Mohammed was in charge of guarding his cell. They were only allowed to send letters or contact their families in exchange for bribes. If the jailer was in a good mood, a visit would cost the prisoner approximately ten thousand Syrian pounds, Mohammed told us.

Hikmat, Mohammed said, was a heavy gambler and had two wives, one Syrian and the other Lebanese.

“Every two hours we were summoned to the Al-Kursi Al-Almani [German Chair], which was among the worst torture methods I ever seen. It is a sort of a chair where the prisoner’s back is moved backwards, causing unbelievable pain to the spine.”

As for his detention in Israel, Mohammed says: “I was imprisoned and severely tortured in Israel for one and a half years; however, torture in Syrian prisons is a hundred times more severe than the one in the Zionist prisons.” Mohammed told Asharq Al-Awsat that he was physically “impaired” when he was released from Syrian prisons. “They denied me the right to live peacefully. Until today, I still have nightmares about being arrested and tortured.”

Just then, a young man in his twenties entered the shop, shouting: “We saw Hikmat running off in a taxi. He is a scoundrel indeed.”

Mohammed answered simply: “He is a scoundrel, but there are much meaner ones guarding prisons in Syria.”