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Conditions in al-Mezze Airport Prison are Terrifying: Details Published for First Time

What is the Investigation Branch of the Air Force Intelligence made up of, how are detainees interrogated and held, and where are they held?
Conditions in al-Mezze Airport Prison are Terrifying: Details Published for First Time

Siraj Press has received a report on the prisons belonging to Air Force Intelligence at al-Mezze military airport in the Syrian capital, Damascus, the number of detainees in each dormitory, and details on the torture methods employed by Assad's forces.


The report, prepared by the Homs Revolution Media Center, stated that each person is interrogated for the first time in the old Department of Investigation building inside al-Mezze military airport. The detainee is then interrogated for a second time at the new Branch of Investigation in al-Mezze military airport by a special investigator, who is aided by four or five jailers who assist in torture. After the interrogation, detainees are transferred into secret cells by night, transported in buses carrying 24 passengers each, with two armed cars for protection. Many prisoners, though, are detained without being interrogated. Some detainees are not called by name, but are given numbers – for example, 320 or 880. These are mostly defected officers, enlisted men, or those who are accused of engaging in commerce with defectors.


The report indicates that the Department of Studies building in al-Mezze military airport contains 150 detainees, and Dormitory 1 contains 200 detainees. This is one of the most dangerous prisons because the lack of sanitary measures and the accumulation of garbage encourage the spread of disease. It is 12 meters long and three meters wide. Dormitory 3 contains approximately 180 detainees in an area 12 meters long and three meters wide. Assad's forces have also turned the runway near the first bridge to the al-Mezze highway into a prison that holds 250 political prisoners.


According to the report, the old Branch of Investigation building inside al-Mezze military airport contains around 10 dormitories. As the report notes, “The dormitory is a room four meters long and three meters wide, with a toilet.” There are also 30 cells: "Cells do not contain a toilet. Every day each detainee is allowed to the toilet twice a day after meals, and is beaten while leaving and returning.” Each cell is 180 cm long and 120 cm wide. Regime forces have also turned the new three-story Branch of Investigation building into a detention center. It has a basement with 40 cells that are each 180 cm long and 120 cm wide, and about six dormitories. The first and second floors of this building follow the same design.


Secret Detention Centers


The report also indicates that the Assad regime depends on a number of detention centers in the capital and its suburbs. In these detention centers, the regime holds prisoners without trial, and does not allow their relatives to visit them or even know where they are being held. The most important detention centers include the Detention Branch in al-Kassa'a, Bab Touma; the Adra holding area; and the Sidnaya detention center. Sidnaya holds what the regime considers the most dangerous detainees, in addition to defected enlisted men and officers. The Fourth Division’s detention center is located above the 555th regiment’s base. It includes a first dormitory (Dormitory A) containing 80 detainees. This dormitory includes two rooms that are each ​​four meters long and four meters wide. Scorpions and insects are common because the detention center is located in a mountainous area. Dormitory B contains 70 detainees in a room that is 4.5 meters long and four meters wide. Cell C, which is intended as a holding cell for soldiers and is only intended to contain 20 individuals, has been filled with 120 detainees. Finally, a dormitory for medical patients is located in the Fourth Division’s base, and contains nearly 90 detainees.


Methods of Torture


The report revealed many methods of torture used by the regime. The most important, "Ghost," is performed using a metal crane: the detainee is blindfolded and his or her hands are bound with plastic ties. The detainee is then held aloft by the hands on the crane with nothing under his or her feet. The second method is “the wheel.” Jailers put a wheel on the detainee’s knees and a metal rod below his knees, positioning the prisoner’s head on the ground and raising his or her legs. The detainee is then beaten on the feet with a 1.5 meter-long hose. The third method is called “the pincer.” A metal rod is placed on the feet and they are squeezed together. Room 27 inside al-Mezze military airport is for more severe torture. It is full of "pincers," pliers, welding implements, and medications used to induce confessions, nausea, and unconsciousness.


Provision of Food and Medical Care

Detainees get food similar to that provided to regime forces. They are fed three times a day: at 7:00 AM they are given a piece of bread, an egg, and seven olives, or seven olives and a spoonful of jam. At lunch they receive a piece of bread and cup of rice or bulgur wheat, and at dinner they are given a piece of bread with boiled potatoes. Less than a spoonful of mutton is distributed to each prisoner every Sunday, and on Wednesday two spoonfuls of poached chicken are distributed to each detainee.

The report argued that medical care for detainees is abysmal. Diseases such as scabies and boils are common because of the presence of lice and dirt, and because detainees are only allowed to shower once every two weeks. Regime forces also used to provide one blister pack of antibiotics, but have stopped doing so.


It is worth noting that this report detailed the conditions of detention centers belonging to Air Force Intelligence in al-Mezze military prison, but there are many more detention centers in regime-held areas of Syria. This report was based on leaks from inside Air Force Intelligence, corroborated by the accounts of detainees who have been released. 


Translated and edited by The Syrian Observer.


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