5 Mar 2012

Exclusive: Syrian doctors ‘torturing’ patients

A Syrian employee at the Military Hospital in Homs has provided video evidence that medics are torturing patients, writes Channel 4 News Foreign Affairs Correspondent Jonathan Miller.

Chilling video images, covertly filmed by an employee at the hospital, who risked his life to bring to world attention the plight of what he claims are civilian patients there, were broadcast on Channel 4 News on Monday 5 March.

It is the first time such video evidence has emerged. Medical and human rights experts consider the intentional infliction of pain by doctors within the confines of a hospital to be the ultimate desecration of human rights and “a gross breach of medical ethics”.

The grainy footage depicts wards full of wounded men, blindfolded and shackled to their beds. Some bear marks of extreme beating. The apparent instruments of torture – a rubber whip and electrical cable – lie openly on a table in one of the hospital wards (pictured below).

On the orders of the Syrian government, all of those shot or injured in protests in Homs must be brought to the Military Hospital for treatment.

But wounded people should never expect this sort of “treatment”: the hospital employee, claims many are whipped and beaten in their beds – and worse.

Read more: UN says hospital torture taking place across Syria

The grim evidence of serious abuse begs a question as to where the hundreds of injured civilians from the Homs district of Baba Amr will be taken once the Red Cross finally negotiates for their evacuation.

The employee says he attempted several times to stop what he called “the shameful things” that were happening in the military hospital but was branded a “traitor”. He was interviewed in a safe location.

“I have seen detainees being tortured by electrocution, whipping, beating with batons, and by breaking their legs. They twist the feet until the leg breaks,” he told “Mani”, a French photojournalist, who himself risked his life, smuggling the covert footage out of Syria.

“They perform operations without anaesthetics,” the hospital employee told him.

“I saw them slamming detainees’ heads against walls. They shackle the patients to beds. They deny them water. Others have their penises tied to stop them from urinating.”

Read more: The horror in Homs
The apparent instruments of torture â?? a rubber whip and electrical cable â?? lie openly on a table.

The employee says he witnessed abuse by civilian and military surgeons at the hospital and by other medical staff, including male nurses. He has provided the names of all those he claims worked hand-in-glove with Syrian soldiers and the feared mukhabarat secret police.

Sometimes, he says, he heard patients screaming while being kicked or beaten. The abuse took place, he claims, in the hospital’s ambulance section, its prison wards, the X-ray department and even, perversely, in the Intensive Care Unit.

“Sometimes they have to amputate limbs and they go gangrenous because they don’t prescribe anti-biotics,” the hospital employee said.

The footage, filmed at Homs Military Hospital within the past three months, confirms what Syrian victims of such treatment have long claimed, but the Syrian regime has forcefully denied.

When the allegations that state-run hospitals had been turned into torture chambers first began to surface late last year, I was in Damascus. At the Tishreen Military Hospital, just north of the capital, I put the allegations to its director, General Faysal Hassan, who insisted that wounded insurgents and injured civilian protestors are accorded the same level of care as any other patient.

“If a terrorist comes injured, we give him every treatment,” the General said. “And armed civilians.”

“So what is your reaction to allegations that military doctors are refusing to treat injured protestors and are even doing worse – are involved in acts of torture?” I asked.

“This is untrue,” he said. After which, he denied that Syrian army tanks would ever fire into civilian neighbourhoods.

As recently as this weekend, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, said he was receiving “grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions and torture” from Homs.

The UN human rights commissioner has already recommended to the Security Council that the Syrian regime be referred to the International Criminal Court, based on evidence that she says constitutes crimes against humanity – including acts of torture.

Cilina Nasser, author of an Amnesty International human rights report on mistreatment and torture in Syrian military and state-run hospitals – including the Military Hospital in Homs – was amazed that anyone was brave enough to risk their lives to film in the torture wards.

“This is the first time we have video evidence to corroborate these claims,” she said.

Many detainees’ names were removed from emergency admissions lists so that no one would know where they were. One of the doctors poured alcohol on the pubic hair area of a 15-year-old boy, then set him on fire.

“The new evidence is horrific. Hospitals should be safe places for anyone who needs medical attention and treatment, but it seems that wounded people in Syria have no safe place to go.”

“Mani”, the French photojournalist, who smuggled the footage out of Homs, where he spent most of January and February, said: “Ordinary Syrians now consider it too dangerous to go to state-run hospitals if they’re injured.

“I met a 15-year-old boy who had been shot in the leg by a sniper. His father told me he was too afraid to bring his son to hospital. Even though he was in danger of losing his leg, the boy was treated in his own home by a nurse.”

“Mani” described the hospital employee, as utterly distraught by what he had witnessed in the Military Hospital. “He wept as he talked to me about the torture and the fact that he was powerless to prevent it.”

He told “Mani” that the medical situation in many districts in Homs was now “extremely desperate.”

Read more: 'It's a massacre and the world sits by and watches'

In the interview, the employee claimed that while some of the victims in Homs Military Hospital are soldiers who had refused to follow orders, most were civilians. Some, he said, had nothing to do with anti-regime demonstrations; others had been injured when their neighbourhoods were attacked.

Many of the injured, he said, were kept alive just so that they could be interrogated. Others were admitted to the hospital simply to revive them between torture sessions.

“Some of the detainees used to be taken from the hospital to the prison,” he said. “They’d bring them back either dead or with a brain haemhorrage.”

“The youngest I saw was 14 or 15 years old,” the employee said. “Many detainees’ names were removed from emergency admissions lists so that no one would know where they were. There were no names. Just numbers. One of the doctors poured alcohol on the pubic hair area of a 15-year-old boy, then set him on fire.”

The employee insisted that there were what he called some “decent doctors”, who refused to participate in the abuse of patients, but, he said, they were under constant and close surveillance.

A version of this article first appeared in the Daily Mail. For the full report, watch Channel 4 News at 7pm on Monday.