The door to my cell was opened, i was taken through the kitchen and a blindfold was places on my head, the one kind of like the airplane gives you. Except wet from the last guys sweat, and stinky, but hygiene was really low on the list. I wondered, what now, what comes next?
I was taken into an office still blindfolded and the following conversation took place between me and the Syrian Mokhabarat dude:
Dude: Where are you from?
Dude: Where were you born?
Q: This means you have a US passport!
Dude: Well it’s really good you said you were Egyptian instead of American, otherwise there would have been a lot more problems for you. We like Egyptians, they are our brothers, but not scum like you.
So what are your parents names? What do you do here? Where do you live?
I answered all the questions, but when i began telling him that I came that day to the mosque to pray, since I had booked a ticket months ago to leave on April 4th, the following week, and that I might not have another chance to pray in the mosque again, he responded by saying:
“My son, we are mokhabarat, what kind of story is that? do you understand? Take him away!”
The next few hours were some of the hardest in my life. I understood that it would require psychological and physical strength that I may not have ever tested before. Past thresholds were to be summoned in order to mitigate. The accident in Colorado in 2002 was the worst pain in my memory, but I was saving it for the actual.
I was pulled away very aggressively and rushed into a room not so far away from the office where I was being questioned. Maybe 15 meters away. I was instructed to lie down on the ground on my stomach. I followed these instructions. The floor was tiled, cold. I was still blindfolded and couldn’t really grasp the environment. I was told to hold my hands behind my back as I lied on the ground. I obliged. I was then told to raise my feet in the air. So i did that and within seconds I felt and immense pain on the bottom of my feet. The man conducting this session was using what felt like a leather baton. It did not feel like a stick, this could have been a malleable instrument. And as I yelled out in pain, the blows just kept coming. “Please stop, I didn’t do anything, please stop ya gamaa3a” They called me traitor as they continued to hit me, an agent, scum, son of a bitch, and the blows kept coming. I started flopping around on my side, so they would wait until I was repositioned to hit me again on the bottom of my feet. At this point, the levels of anxiety forced me to begin dry heaving. But another blow would send a surge of pain and the anxiety was lessened and replaced by thoughts of how to decrease the immensity of pain. By squirming on the ground, I knew the exact blow on my feet would be lessened since the angle wouldn’t be right. This led them to missing my feet and hitting my ankles. But after a while, they would threaten to beat my face and body if I didn’t realign. So I would realign once again, invoking the threshold of Colorado, a fractured spinal cord was bad, and I soon realized, that they weren’t going to achieve a new threshold with this treatment. But I had to show I had reached the max. I began to cry and yell in pain and squirmier on the ground, try to lose my voice and tell them I could not handle anymore. They would repeat my words in Egyptian accent, because it was an Egyptian accent, mocking it with a childish voice, but enjoying it just the same, like one of those comedy flicks coming out of Cairo starring Adel Imam. But then the low deep Syrian accent would come back and with another blow to my ankles shins and feet, they would call me a traitor again and to tell them the truth, except they were asking questions here.
I’m not sure about the length of time, it couldn’t have been more than one hour, but they then told me to go to another room. I think they dragged me there, I couldn’t walk well, my feet were in pain, but there was a tingling, a numbing.
In this room, I was asked to go through the basics of my story. The man was more eloquent, where was my brother, what was he doing, my treasonous actions were not acceptable and that I had to help them.
I told them i was not a traitor to anyone or anything, not to Syria or its people, but that they could check my email to see if there was any foul play. I told them that i would read online and that this was the source of knowledge for anything going on in Syria. They took down my email and facebook username and password. I told them about twitter, but they didn’t seem concerned. They mentioned, unconvincingly, that they knew about it. I was shocked that after Egyptian’s so-called facebook and twitter revolution, that these guys had not started monitoring the site.
There were more in the room at this point, and a few were asking questions, when I answered about the name of the program of study that my brother was enrolled, it was in English, they were furious and yelled at me never to speak English and to reply again in Arabic. I apologized and had to think about it, what was ‘International Relations’ in Arabic? A man further away then the rest translated it as 3alaqat dawlaya, “isn’t that right?” he said. Sure man, what the fuck ever you think it is.
I know the love of the Arabic language in Syria and the medical schools all teach in Arabic and I know as a result, less people speak foreign languages in Syria then elsewhere in Mideast, but especially security services at abuse chamber levels, and this belittled them. So from then on, not a single word of English was spoken until I had felt I was sitting with some of the higher ups.
The “computer engineer” was called upon in order to hear what I had to say, to help them out. I had discussed twitter and facebook, but these guys seemed to be clueless about what i was talking about. When the engineer arrived he said he understood all these things and that they were on to all the facebook groups (with obvious disregard for twitter once again). I said track them with their IP addresses and then that will reach their account number which will then provide their physical addresses. I told them all governments use this technology and that should be helpful to them. They realized at this point, I wasn’t a tech guy and couldn’t provide anything they already knew. They didn’t like the level of information coming out of me so I started to get hit again on the bottom of feet in the same manner as earlier. The anxiety attacks were back and frequent. They started to kick me while on the ground, they said that’s what they do when someone starts dry-heaving from anxiety, and look, it works!
They would ask me who I work for? Why am I taking pictures? And blow after blow, a beating started since I couldn’t hold my feet up any longer. There were at least three of them hitting me all over my body, punching in the back of my head or using that leather tool to hit my feet. This must have been around 30 mins long.
At this point, more information starting coming out of me. I told them I had wanted to put the videos on Youtube, I told them that no one had hired me, but that many people asked me to do interviews with them on the current events in Syria. My response to these requests was always the same: Nothing going on in Damascus, everything was down south, in Deraa, and that I was getting the same news they were getting on Alarabaya or Aljazeera or other media outlets. I told them of this Colombian guy who that morning had sent me an email. I was sure they were going to see that note since it was the last email I had received. They stuck on this for a while, who he was, who it was sent through, why? If he was really Israeli, how much he wanted from me. I told them there was no discussion of money transactions, that I don’t know him and had never met him, all of which is true, and that I received the email through my cousin. Questions about Tarek my cousin ensued. Who he was, why he was sending me these emails, what he does. They saw my pics for Tahrir and asked who there were for? I told them they were for me. They didn’t want to hear that, so they kept asking me. They proposed that Tarek had made a website, correct? I confirmed even though I knew they didn’t know. They said I was going to get him to pay me, I got hit, and confirmed. They asked for how much, I told them for 20 Egyptian pounds. They hit me and called me a liar. Why would an engineer branch manager do all this, risk his safety for measly 20 pounds. I mean I was aiming low, but I honestly didn’t know how much photographers got paid, so I started really low. I figured I would correct that earlier figure that didn’t fly too well, but try to maintain similar line. I would claim that it was 20 US dollars, which converts into almost 100 pounds. They seemed to think this was acceptable. And all I could think was how many lies I would have to say to please them. How many times were thy going to hit me until I came up with the most convoluted shit, that even I could not remember if I had to later on.
They decided to wait. I was in this room alone with the English speaker. The rest of them, maybe four others, had left to attend to other “interrogations”. I believe the email and facebook check was also beginning.