On the same day that the U.S. Senate made available to the public a redacted version of its report on the CIA's program of secret overseas interrogation sites, a Syrian activist group released its own documenting of abuses taking place under the watch of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The report, compiled by the Syrian Commission for Transitional Justice, a Syrian opposition group based in Istanbul, points to systematic violations of human rights in the Assad regime's jails. According to former U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, the regime has jailed about 50,000 to 100,000 amid Syria's brutal civil war. An untold number have experienced torture and other abuse.
The Syrian group's report is drawn from testimony delivered to the organization by former detainees and compiled earlier by other rights groups, including a 2012 investigation by Human Rights Watch in the early stages of the conflict.
There is no substantive comparison to be made between the widespread abuses carried out by the Assad regime on its own people and the shadowy practices of a CIA counterterrorism program that rounded up 119 detainees, mostly on foreign soil.
But the United States and Syria are both signatories of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, a covenant both could be deemed to have violated, judging from the evidence below.
Shackles and beatings
Here's the testimony of one Syrian activist arrested in 2012:
They put me in the 'Dutch Chair' which is similar to a dentist's chair. They fixed me to it and started bending my back reversely till I confessed that I participated in the demonstration. The next day, they hung me 50cm above the floor for three hours which caused a severe pain in the shoulder.
The CIA, meanwhile, was authorized to "strip a detainee naked, shackle him in the standing position for up to 72 hours, and douse [him] repeatedly with cold water."
The Syrian report chronicles a spate of measures used to brutalize detainees, including "beating with plastic sticks," "deprivation of sleep, food, and water for prolonged periods of time," electrocution, and these two practices below:
The victim is forced to bend at the waist and has his head, neck, legs and sometimes arms, placed into the inside of a car tire, so that the victim is totally immobilized and cannot protect him or herself from beatings...
Basat al-reeh, or “flying carpet” (tying the victim down to a flat board, the head suspended in the air so that the victim cannot defend himself. One variation of this torture involves stretching the limbs while the victim lies on the board (as on a rack).
The Senate report on the CIA interrogations looked into the death of Gul Rahman, a suspected Afghan militant who died in a CIA secret prison in Afghanistan known as the Salt Pit. He was reportedly found dead in his cell, shackled, half-naked and exposed to the cold. Here's the report's account of events that preceded Rahman's death:
“there were approximately five CIA officers from the renditions team . . . they opened the door of Rahman’s cell and rushed in screaming and yelling for him to ‘get down.’ They dragged him outside, cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape. They covered his head with a hood and ran him up and down a long corridor adjacent to his cell. They slapped him and punched him several times.
Diet and hygiene
A Syrian detainee complains of a lack of adequate food in the regime jails:
In the morning, we had a loaf of bread, a spoonful of jam, and an egg. The second meal was two loaves and three cups of water. Both meals were inadequate. One prisoner died because of the deprivation of food and water, which was itself used as a form of torture.
You've already probably encountered the grim "rectal hydration" and "rectal feeding" tactics employed by CIA officers. Others were subjected to a liquid diet:
In August 2002, as part of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, Abu Zubaydah was placed on a liquid diet of Ensure and water as both an interrogation technique, and as a means of limiting vomiting during waterboarding. In planning for the interrogation of subsequent detainees, the CIA determined that it would use a “liquid diet.” At least 30 CIA detainees were fed only a liquid diet of Ensure and water for interrogation purposes.
Conditions in Syrian prisons are notoriously bad. Here's one account of the state of cells in a facility run by Assad's intelligence services.
The cells are usually humid and unhygienic, contain toilets, and suffer from a lack of water. Most inmates do not have space to move or sleep, and suffer from skin diseases, rheumatism, lung infections, and hemorrhoids thanks to the improper food.
And here's a stark account of conditions in the CIA's secret prisons:
CIA detainees, particularly those subjected to standing sleep deprivation, were routinely placed in diapers. Waste buckets were not always available. In the interrogation of Abu Hazim, a waste bucket was removed from his cell for punishment. According to a CIA cable, Abu Hazim "requested a bucket in which he could relieve himself, but was told all rewards must be earned."