- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
"I knew a boy called Ala’a. He was only six years old. He didn’t understand what was happening. I’d say that six-year-old boy was tortured more than anyone else in the room. He wasn’t given food or water for three days, and he was so weak he used to faint all the time. He was beaten regularly. I watched him die. He only survived for three days and then he simply died. He was terrified all the time. They treated his body as though he was a dog."
These are the words of a 16-year old boy named Wael, as recounted in a new report by Save the Children on the torture of children during the Syrian uprising. "Almost every child we’ve spoken to has seen family members killed," the report, which is the product of face-to-face interviews with Syrians in bordering countries, states. "
They have seen and experienced things that no child should ever see, and many are deeply traumatised as a result…The acts described are consistent, recurring and appalling."
They are also consistent with extensive reporting from the United Nations and several human rights organizations, which have detailed the use of torture by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as well as its willingness to arrest family members of wanted men in order to intimidate them into silence.
U.S. President Barack Obama may have had the report in mind today, when he referred to the Syrian government in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly as "a regime that tortures children and shoots rockets at apartment buildings."
Instead of the bland political jargon of most reports on the Syrian crisis, the Save the Children report is composed of roughly two dozen firsthand accounts of those who had witnessed, or been the victim, of torture. "I was tortured with electricity," said 24-year old Mohamad. "The children were too — I saw this. We were in the same jail. The guards didn’t hesitate — they used electricity on their hands, their legs, their backs, their genitals. They would beat the children until they bled. Many died."
These accounts are important to read. Many of the reasons given for the Syrian revolt — sectarian divisions, economic realities, and political mismanagement — are all true, but they tend to conceal an important reality: This uprising is an almost unfathomable venture. Why would a largely unarmed population initially attempt to resist an army supplied by one of the world’s major powers? What could compel Syrians to keep on resisting after tens of thousands had been killed, in the face of constant shelling and air bombardment?
Hopefully, these horror stories will provide a sense of why the Syrian revolt grinds on today, as it has every day now for 18 months.