AMMAN, Jordan -- A prominent Palestinian writer who was jailed in Syria for nearly three weeks described the facilities as "human slaughterhouses," saying security agents beat detainees with batons, crammed them into stinking cells and tied them to beds at night.
Salameh Kaileh, 56, was arrested April 24 on suspicion of printing leaflets calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is fighting a 15-month-old uprising against his rule. Kaileh's story offers a rare inside glimpse into the conditions faced by detainees held by the country's feared security services.
"It was hell on earth," Kaileh told The Associated Press on Sunday, nearly a week after Syrian forces released him and deported him to Jordan. Speaking at his friend's home in an Amman suburb, Kaileh had bluish-red bruises on his legs, which he said were the result of beatings with wooden batons that were studded with pins and nails.
"I felt I was going to die under the brutal, savage and continuous beating of the interrogators, who tied me to ropes hung from the ceiling," said Kaileh, a soft-spoken man with a shock of white hair who appeared frail, barely able to stand on his feet.
Born in Birzeit, West Bank, Kaileh has suffered under the regime in Damascus before. He was imprisoned by the Syrian government in 1992 for eight years because of his alleged links to underground Syrian communist and leftist opposition groups. A well-known leftist, he has written books on subjects ranging from Marxism to Arab nationalism.
This time, he was held in at least four detention centers after security forces arrested him at his home in Damascus, the Syrian capital where he's lived for more than 30 years.
Kaileh denied printing the leaflets, which he said angered the regime because they read: "For Palestine to be free, Syria's regime has to fall."
Syria often has touted its support of the Palestinian cause to boost its credentials as a bastion of Arab nationalism.
Kaileh's detention caused an outcry by Arab intellectuals, who called for his release and lashed out at Assad – whose crackdown has not spared other intellectuals and artists.
Ali Ferzat, a political cartoonist whose drawings expressed Syrians' frustrated hopes for change, was beaten by masked gunmen as he left his Damascus studio last August. The assailants broke his hands and dumped him on a road outside Damascus.
A group of intellectuals and artists, including Syrian actress May Skaff, were rounded up and jailed for a week last summer after holding a protest in Damascus.
Recalling his arrest, Kaileh said Syrian intelligence stormed his house in an upscale Damascus district shortly after midnight. "They handcuffed and blindfolded me, took my three laptops, cell phones and any shred of paper they could lay their hands on."
"I told them I had nothing to do with the leaflets, but the interrogators insisted that they had information I was distributing them and that I had printed them out," he said.
He said Syrian security wanted to intimidate him by being "disdainful to Palestine and the Palestinian people, cursing us and saying the Israelis were better than us."
In one of the detention facilities in Mazeh – a Damascus suburb – Syrian security threatened they will "rape me and tape it to put the clip on the Internet," he said.
Rights groups have accused the Syrian government of torture of detainees. Claudio Grossman, the chairman of the U.N.'s Committee Against Torture, said this month that the Syrian government has carried out widespread killings, torture in hospitals, detention centers and secret detention facilities, as well as torture of children and sexual torture of male detainees.
Kaileh said he shared a cell with at least six army defectors and several doctors who had treated wounded civilians.
At night, he said he heard other prisoners "cry and scream while they were beaten."
Days later, Kaileh said he was admitted to a government hospital to treat his leg wounds. There, the conditions were "worse than in the detention centers."
He said he was squeezed into a small room with 30 other prisoners, mostly activists who allegedly participated in anti-government protests.
"The room was barely enough to accommodate five people," he said. "It was filled with body stench, dirt, urine and stool. Two people shared small beds and were tied to them, the food was lousy and we couldn't eat properly because our hands and feet were handcuffed day and night."
"We were not allowed to go to the restroom," he said. "Still, we were beaten if we urinated in our sleep."
"The detention facilities I was taken to were human slaughterhouses," Kaileh said.
U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice tweets:
|@ AmbassadorRice : #Syria regime turned artillery, tanks and helicopters on its own men & women. It unleashed knife-wielding shabiha gangs on its own children.|
Russia says international envoy Kofi Annan will visit Moscow on Monday to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria. Russia also called for an inquiry into an alleged massacre that took place in the village of Tramseh on Thursday. "We have no doubt that this wrongdoing serves the interests of those powers that are not seeking peace but persistently seek to sow the seeds of interconfessional and civilian conflict on Syrian soil," Russia's foreign ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters. Moscow did not apportion blame for the killings.
Read more on Reuters.com.
The Associated Press obtained a video that purports to show the aftermath of an alleged massacre in the village of Tramseh, near Hama.
How do Syria's fighters get their arms? An overview put together by Reuters explains that there are three gateways to the country -- Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq.
Syrian rebels are smuggling small arms into Syria through a network of land and sea routes involving cargo ships and trucks moving through Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq, maritime intelligence and Free Syrian Army (FSA) officers say. Western and regional powers deny any suggestion they are involved in gun running. Their interest in the sensitive border region lies rather in screening to ensure powerful weapons such as surface to air missiles do not find their way to Islamist or other militants.
Read the full report here.
This citizen journalism image made from video provided by Shaam News Network SNN, purports to show a man mourning a victim killed by violence that, according to anti-regime activists, was carried out by government forces in Tremseh, Syria about 15 kilometers (nine miles) northwest of the central city of Hama, Thursday, July 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network, SNN)
According to the Hama Revolutionary Council, a Syrian opposition group, more than 220 people have been killed in a new alleged massacre in Taramseh. Earlier reports said more than 100 people were killed. "More than 220 people fell today in Taramseh," the Council said in a statement. "They died from bombardment by tanks and helicopters, artillery shelling and summary executions."
Fadi Sameh, an opposition activist from Taramseh, told Reuters he had left the town before the reported massacre but was in touch with residents. "It appears that Alawite militiamen from surrounding villages descended on Taramseh after its rebel defenders pulled out, and started killing the people. Whole houses have been destroyed and burned from the shelling," Sameh claimed.
Read more on Reuters.com.
Syrian activist Rami Jarrah tweets that Syrian State TV has confirmed deaths in Tremseh. "Terrorists" is often the term used by the Syrian regime for opposition forces.
|@ AlexanderPageSY : Syrian State TV: clashes between security apparatus & terrorists in #Tremseh of #Hama leaves large numbers of terrorists killed #Syria|
|@ Reuters : UPDATE: DEATH TOLL IN SYRIAN FORCES' ATTACK ON VILLAGE IN SYRIA'S HAMA REGION IS MORE THAN 200, MOSTLY CIVILIANS - OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS|