Questions and Answers About Syria’s Secret Torture Prisons

A latest New York Times article by Anne Barnard uncovered Syria’s brutal system of torture prisons in horrific element.

While the precise variety of Syrians who’ve handed by way of the system of arbitrary arrests and imprisonment is unknown, human rights teams estimate tons of of 1000’s to one million.

Ms. Barnard returned to the United States final summer season because the Edward R. Murrow Press Fellow on the Council on Foreign Relations, after being based mostly within the Middle East for 11 of the final 16 years. During an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit, she answered questions in regards to the article and her work.

Below are a few of her responses, calmly edited for readability.

One consumer requested how the day by day lifetime of a Syrian citizen is affected by President Bashar al-Assad’s system, and questioned if it encourages insurgency.

On the one hand, earlier than the rebellion, Syrians who stored their heads down and had been very cautious to not cross any political purple strains may hope to by no means are available contact with this method. But even then there was no assure: A mixed-up identify, a false report made by a jealous acquaintance, and you possibly can be interrogated or imprisoned.

After the rebellion, the danger of being sucked into the system even in the event you engaged in no political actions grew to become a lot larger. Checkpoints had been arrange all around the nation, and individuals who had been from a city thought-about to be rebellious, or who had been driving into Damascus on a day when a protest was anticipated, may discover themselves detained.

The risk of the violence of the jail system, even within the background, compounds lots of the different day-to-day difficulties Syrian residents face: Anyone with a connection to the safety companies, as an example, can demand bribes from residents, with the unstated risk of detention.

These issues have all worsened, in fact, with the present battle. Millions of individuals have a relative who has been detained; 127,000 persons are nonetheless lacking contained in the system; and tons of of 1000’s are believed to have handed by way of it since 2011.

Asked in regards to the huge image, and whether or not the publicity of Mr. al-Assad’s torture prisons justifies ousting him and probably creating an influence vacuum, Ms. Barnard responded:

It’s not my place as a reporter to provide coverage suggestions, however I can say that the United States misplaced credibility and ethical standing in Iraq, in addition to political will and public help to get deeply concerned in Syria.

President Barack Obama spoke loudly, calling for Mr. al-Assad’s ouster, however carried a small stick. He backed off from even symbolic enforcement of the purple line he had set. Support for rebels was “nonlethal” at first, then the C.I.A. backed some insurgent teams, however in the end America’s objective was to not oust Mr. al-Assad however to place stress on him to go to the negotiating desk. Even that effort later took a again seat to an anti-ISIS marketing campaign.

But the broader subject is how the United States views the area. It will not be a binary alternative between authoritarian rulers who torture their individuals — ones the United States actively helps, like in Saudi Arabia, or ones it opposes however brazenly tolerates, like in Syria — and toppling them with large interventions that create energy vacuums. Most individuals within the area, I consider, need extra help for the unusual individuals in search of to construct a significant civil society and fewer help for the governments holding them again.

One consumer requested Ms. Barnard in regards to the historical past of torture prisons within the Middle East.

Unfortunately torture and political imprisonment have been used by way of a lot of historical past, whether or not we’re speaking in regards to the Spanish Inquisition or the Stalinist gulag.

From Ottoman occasions by way of Western colonialism to the upheavals of the 20th century, such abuses have been prevalent in lots of Middle Eastern international locations as effectively.

But even inside a century rife with authoritarianism within the area, the present Syrian system stands out. Syria’s jail system and tight lid on dissent had been among the many harshest within the area lengthy earlier than the rebellion in 2011. After the rebellion, the system was vastly expanded and performed a pivotal position in crushing the civilian aspect of the revolt.

Another requested how Ms. Barnard’s article contributes something new to a worldwide understanding of Islamic international locations ruled by Shariah legislation.

This isn’t about Islamic legislation; Syria is formally a secular state. Nor is it about Arab dictatorships writ massive. The story in Syria is related as a result of at this second in time, the Syrian authorities has used these large violations of human rights to place down a motion for reform and democracy, and has proven different leaders world wide, Arab or not, that such strategies can be utilized with impunity.

Russia is in search of to influence the West to normalize relations with Damascus, as some Arab and different states are already doing, and to finance billions of of reconstruction even with out reforms, arguing that this may persuade 5 million refugees to go dwelling — however many gained’t in the event that they concern being sucked into this jail system.

One consumer wished to know whether or not Ms. Barnard had any direct connections to ISIS fighters or terrorists.

If by connections you imply contact with the intention to interview them, then sure.

My wonderful group of colleagues — Hwaida Saad, Ben Hubbard and lots of others — have spent years working to contact individuals, together with combatants, on all sides of this and different conflicts in order that we will paint the fullest photos potential of their views, motivations and actions.

Finally, Ms. Barnard shared what it was wish to return to the United States after so a few years overseas.

I’ve come again a number of occasions after stints in Russia and the Middle East and at all times discover it jarring how little the realities elsewhere are observed within the United States. This time I’m additionally coping with my youngsters’ adjustment to New York, the place they had been born, after principally rising up in Lebanon. But it’s nice to be dwelling.

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