Torture will only keep Assad in power for so long
When people stand in solidarity to demand the basic values of justice, rule of law, and democracy, it will be hard for Assad’s regime maintains its power for much longer.
Being the son of a man who was brutally and hideously tortured by Syrian security forces, the al-mukhabarat, for standing up for his basic human rights and criticizing the regime, I find it very difficult to take the Assad regime seriously when it denies engaging in acts of systematic torture.
President Assad stated in an interview late last year: “There was no command to kill or be brutal." He added, "We don't kill our people… no government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person." The Assad regime implements a strategy of denial to remain in power, as well as serially labeling the peaceful demonstrators “foreign conspiracies” and executers of “foreign- backed plots.”
Recently, Amnesty International released documentation evidencing more than 30 different types of torture currently practiced by the Syrian authorities against Syrian detainees. The 45-page report contained information gathered as a result of interviews of hundreds of detainees. Some of the torture tactics mentioned in the papers were the same ones that my father endured during his imprisonment such as falqha, which entails the lashing of the soles of the feet while the detainee is tied, slapped and/or beaten, sometimes with boots. Another is called sollom (ladder), which my father also endured: he was tied to a ladder which was continuously pushed over so that he would fall directly onto his back.
These are only some of the torture methods being practiced in Syria to extract information or to silence any individuals who disagree with the regime. It may also be worth mentioning that the Syrian regime is a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture.
The Assad regime does not only target individuals in isolation but rather employs methods of torture in a systematic way. Torture has also been used by the regime to consolidate and reinforce the power it gained four decades ago. First, the individual’s body is violated. Then the torturer attempts to use the body of the detainee to dehumanize, humiliate, and degrade the individual. Essentially, the goal is to alienate the person from him or herself. After invading and taking control of the detainee’s body, the torturer begins the process of possessing the mind of the detainee.
Torturing individuals is a practiced by the Syrian regime in order to ultimately affect society as a whole. Often times, the Syrian regime will return the tortured body to his/her family. Doing so instills a profound sense of fear and terror in anyone associate with the torture victim, ultimately deterring anyone considering engaging in acts of which the regime does not approve.
This message, of course, reaches not only the extended family but the wider neighborhood as well. Much of Syrian society has suffered a collective anxiety and trauma that must be dealt with eventually, particularly for the thousands of detainees being held by the regime.
The systematic torture in Syria may help an autocratic regime maintain its grip on power for a long period of time if those standing up to it are few and far between. But how much longer can the regime sustain itself using such gruesome tactics when the numbers of those who resist and protest grows exponentially, and will only continue to increase?
When this many people stand in solidarity to demand the basic values of justice, rule of law, and democracy, it will be hard for Assad’s regime maintains its power for much longer.
The demonstrators – ordinary Syrians – want the rights of citizens, and not prisoners. Let us hope that their struggle is accompanied by a united opposition that comes together around a common vision for Syria’s future.
Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian scholar and columnist for the Harvard International Review, and ambassador for the National Iranian American Council.