“Occasional screams reminded me of where I was”: Reuters journalist held in Syria

Reuters journalist Suleiman al-Khalidi, a Jordanian citizen, was arrested and held in Syria for four days nearly two months ago. Today, Reuters published a story by Al-Khalidi describing his experience at the “Mukhabarat”, his treatment by Syrian intelligence services — and the scenes of torture he witnessed.
“I caught sight of the man hanging by his feet as one of the jailers escorted me to the interrogation room for questioning,” he writes. “‘Look down,’ the jailer shouted as I took in the scene.”

Al-Khalidi was detained in Damascus after reporting on the protests in Deraa, a city in the southern part of Syria. “My reporting from Deraa,” he writes, “where protests against President Bashar al-Assad had broken out in March, had apparently not endeared me to my hosts, who accused me of being a spy.”

He had crossed the border from Jordan on March 18, where he has reported for Reuters for nearly two decades. He was arrested on March 28.

He continues:

“I felt my hosts wanted to give me, as a foreign journalist, a demonstration of the methods they use on Syrians. To brace myself for what might yet come and save myself from total breakdown, I tried to fix my mind on old childhood memories. These mental games helped me avoid thinking of my young twins and wife back home in Amman, who had no way of knowing where I was, or even whether I was still alive. The questioning lasted eight hours until midnight on my first day of detention. Mostly I was blindfolded, but the blindfold was removed for a few minutes. That allowed me — despite orders to keep my head down so that my interrogators should remain out of view — to see a hooded man screaming in pain in front of me … At other moments, my questioners could be charming, but would quickly switch to ruthless mode in what looked like an orchestrated performance to wear me down.”

On his fourth day, his hosts moved him, where a man he later learned was Major General Ali Mamluk, the director of Syrian State Security, told him: “we are sending you back to Jordon.”

“Nearly two months later,” Al-Khalidi writes, “time has helped me absorb the impact of those four days, to the extent that I can record the experiences in writing. But I am haunted by the human cost of the Arab uprisings for people seeking the sort of freedoms which others elsewhere in the world take for granted.”

He now reports on the continuing unrest from Amman.