Mohamamd was younger than twenty years old when he found himself in the middle of turbulent political environment in a country witnessing civil protests to achieve basic human liberties. The young man was not involved in political activity. Being non-Syrian,He did not do any activity against the Syrian government. However, the authorities found out that they could arrest Mohammadd just because of his relation with his university environment where the majority of young men are against the closed totalitarian rule. They put him in the labyrinth of Palmyra desert prison for 11 years without trial.
He might be the only Arab detainee among a few of lucky people who discharged from a prison that any person with a live conscious considers a sign of shame in the modern Syrian history. When he left Syria for good, he had the chance to publish a book in 1998 called : “Palmyra… a witness and a witnessed” . Mohammadd Saleem Hammad narrates in this book his horrific experience in the Syrian prisons. His trauma sums up the suffering of thousands of Syrian and Arab detainees (from Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, and Iraq…etc) whom the Syrian authorities refused to admit their presence in their detentions. They did not respond to any call to release them, to mitigate the suffering of their families who missed them for years and years.
In his book of 245 pages, Mohammad says that his exposure to cruel torture started with his arrest at the branch of the Intelligence headquarters in the Adawi area in Damascus. There he got number 13 instead of his name. They took off his clothes and the interrogators ordered him to kneel with his head down in order to answer their questions under a severe beating and threats to finish him. The young man could not admit what they’re asking him to as he was entirely innocent. He adds that he then was moved to a room especially set for torture under a dark cellar. There he was hung with ropes in the ceiling naked. Then he was flogged with hot rods and electric wires and rods. Whippers also used electric shocks in sensitive areas of his body threatening him with death unless he confesses what they were asking him to.
Following that round of torture known by the floggers as “Shabh” Fear, Mohammad was moved to another type of torture known as “Bisat-el- Reeh” the flying carpet It is a panel of wood to which the detainee is tied with iron pieces. Then he lifts a part of his body to receive flogs on feet with metal wires. He also faced another type of torture known as the “German Chair”. It is a chair with movable parts to which the detainee is tied by the arms and legs. Then its back is taken backwards taking the upper thigh with it whereas the feet stay fixed from the other part. So, the pressure lays on the chest and the backbone which is fractured to end up with paralysis later on.
The Jordanian young man narrates in his book that the round of torture to which he was exposed during his arrest was only the first step in a hard stride that the political detainees have to undergo in Syria.
Then, he was moved to the military interrogation section in Damascus where he passed new rounds of severe torture including electric shocks, iron with fire, flogging and Shabh.
The account of Mohammad in the first pages of his personal story is awful to the extent that the reader may think that it is a fictitious narration. However, his account about the military jail of Palmyra is still the part which is most disgusting. For, the tools and forms of torture are varied. The roads to death are several and easy to go whereas the road to rescue never shows to those imprisoned in that jail which Amnesty International describes as the place where the person going in is missing or lost.
The military jail of Tadmur (Palmyra) was established during the French mandate to torture freedom fighters against the foreign occupation. However, it is still the worst reputed prison in Syria even in the era of independence. Torture there starts the very moments the detainee comes with a blind on his eyes. Usually he ends up with death. Very rarely a prisoner is released.
The Jordanian detainee lists in his book the tools of torture in Palmyra prison. Tools either used with him or with others; namely:
Teaching (Marking): of course the word has nothing to do with teaching. It is an expression to describe the process of marking one of the detainee randomly to take severe and cruel doses of torture until death, and so becomes a lesson to be learnt by others.
The wheel: the detainee is put into a rubber wheel with his legs in the air to receive the whips of the floggers. Then, the feet are tied with an iron chain to turn them motionless. Then the detainee is beaten on feet until bleeding.
Continuous monitoring: Dormitories are crowded with detainees. A dormitory is a long room with two toilettes and a tap at the end. In the ceiling there are two openings covered with iron rods. From them, the intelligence and police members monitor the arrested all time long. Then they torture all of them or select some of them with every new round of torture.
Attendance monitoring: a daily counting of the detainees is always accompanied with beating, cursing and flogging. The detainees are permitted to sleep only on worn out blankets that do not provide shelter from Palmyra desert biting coldness .
Breaks: The floggers deliberately beat detainees when they go out to the prison yard. They beat them using rods and wires and they prevent them from speaking with each other.
Food: Food in Palmyra is another part of torture. Syrian detentions, especially the desert prison of Palmyra are known for this crucial abuse of detainees. Most often, food is rotten and causes abdominal diseases to prisoners. Sometimes, detainees are ordered to eat cockroaches and flies and even dead rats. All that is done under threatening and thrilling.
Hair cutting: the detainee is ordered to kneel in front of the barber who is another flogger at the prison. This “barber” uses a sharp blade and beats and curses. Most often, the barber causes deep cuts in the head, face and neck.
Bathing: Even bathing in Palmyra is sort of torture. Detainees go out to the prison yard where they are severely beaten by the floggers. They take them in rows to chambers and divide them into groups each with about six detainees who are then exposed to a cold water sprayer while taking off their clothes.
In his book, Moh’d describes the thrilling environment of Palmyra prison and the continuous killings of political prisoners. Moreover, some of them die due to dangerous diseases as they are denied the chance of treatment in a hospital. There are some fictitious trials done by the intelligence officers. Cruel random sentences are issued on the basis of confessions taken under torture.
In spite of all this, those cruel people compelled the prisoners most of whom are students to vote with “Yes” in the re-election campaign of President Hafez al-Assad in 1991. Mohammad says that the floggers compelled the prisoners to write the word Yes with their blood going to the furthest extent of cruelty.
Threatening: Mohammad Saleem Hammad in his book “the Document” states things witnessed by some detainees during the known massacre of Palmyraa prison on 27 June 1980 when the Defense Brigades under the rule of the President’s brother “Lieutenant Colonel Rifa’t Assad” committed the crime of killing about 1000 arrested people who were buried in collective graves to the east of Palmyra.
On occasions of implementing the so-called sentences of execution issued by a security court that doesn’t fulfill the least legal criteria, the execution process is done collectively. Hangers are installed in the internal yard of prison. The sentenced are summoned in a scene that is open to many detainees to see for further threat. So rarely a sentenced escapes this destiny; Mohammad Saleem Hammad is one of these rare cases in the history of “Palmyra”.
Massacre of Tadmur Prison
The darkest point in the history of the military prison of Tadmur (Palmyra) is the massacre which occurred during independence; i.e. twenty one years ago.
The massacre which held the prison name ended up in the death of an elite group of Syrians including politicians, scientists, poets, intellects, doctors, engineers, workers, farmers, children and elderly; all arrested for political reasons.
Twenty one years have passed and only the headlines of this massacre and those who ordered and executed it are known. However, the victims’ names are still within the files of the perpetrators if they have any despite the long time.
After the Syrian authorities tried to block out this horrible massacre which only a little was known about, things were revealed when the Jordanian authorities arrested some of the armed agents dispatched by the Syrian authorities to assassinate the former Jordanian Prime Minister Modhar Badran. In the innterrogation, it was found out that two of them participated in the Palmyra prison massacre and they gave information about its details in two testimonies watched by the Syrians and the whole world through the Jordanin TV. They were also published in the Jordanian papers and considered as official Jordanian documents.
On 26.7.1980, President Hafez Assad was a target of a failure assassination by one of his private guards. The authorities immediately accused the Muslim Brotherhoods’ movement of the event. Upon an explicit order by Rifa’t Assad, there was a revenge reaction that targeted Palmyra prisoners who had been arrested by the security authorities in all the Syrian cities and areas to be moved to the desert Palmyra prison to the east of the country.
Most of the prisoners were of the Muslim brotherhood movement who opposed the suppressive and dictator rule of the Syrian regime. The following day at dawn; 27. 7.1980 about 200 people of Legion 40 and Legion 138 of the Defense Brigades operating directly under Rifat Assad moved in helicopters from their sites near Damascus to Palmyra. There they shot fire at prisoners while in their cells not perceiving things going on. They attacked them with bombs and explosives until they all passed away during half an hour only. Then large trucks removed their corpses and threw them in holes that become collective graves in a valley to the east of Palmyra. Those went back to their bases in Damascus and were received by Major Mu’in Nasif, Rifa’at’s son in law who congratulated them of eradicating the innocent giving each of them a financial award.
The world saw the details of that dumbfounding massacre. Organizations of human rights wrote about it and condemned that a regime would commit such an act against disarmed civilians who were originally arrested due to their political opposition or due to their opinions. Some of them were even arrested as hostages for their relatives and were never charged with a crime.
The UN committee of human rights held in Geneva reviewed in its thirty seventh session the details of Palmyra massacre while discussing item 13 of their agenda on the human right violation in the world. Document No. (E/CN/4/1469) of 4.3.1981 was distributed. It included affidavits by two of those participating in Palmyra massacre; namely Issa Ibrahim Fayyad and Akram Bishani. In its session No. 1632 of 9.3.1981, the Committee discussed the memo content. Delegates of Jordan, Iraq and Syria participated in that discussion.
Legal Description of the Massacre
As per the affidavits of some of its executors, the events of Palmyra prison massacre go beyond limits of deliberate killing which is penalized upon the Syrian Penal Code. Those ordering and executing it are all held of criminal liability to this massacre.
This massacre, however, raises a very important international legal matter; i.e. the international law adaptation to this massacre and the international penal liability for its executors.
As per the affidavits by those participating in the massacre, the following is revealed:
1. The order to execute the massacre was issued by Rifa’t Assad who got his instructions from Hafez Assad. The details of implementation were set by major Mu’in Nasif. Supervisor of execution was Lieutenant Colonel Suleiman Mustafa. Other 80 people of the Defense Brigades participated in the crime execution.
2. The purpose of the massacre is group eradication of political detainees at Palmyra Prison on 27.6.1980.
3. The detainees who were the victims of group eradication are different from those who issued the order and those who executed the massacre in two ways:
First: politically being of the opposition parties in Syria.
Second: sect and denomination, the detainees do not belong to the sect of those who ordered and executed. This is what those who participated in the massacre and who gave their affidavits emphasized on Jordan TV on 25.2.1981.
Consequently, following are the legal and international points to be revealed:
1. The right to life is the substance of basic human rights. Violation of this right is not only a critical and exposed violation to human rights but it is a crime that must be penalized.
2. Violation of human right to life when becomes an approach for the State and upon instructions by its leaders in order to eradicate some people for political and sectarian reasons or for both, represents a type of crimes of eradication of humans as defined by the UN General Assembly on 9. 12.1948.
3. By setting legal rules for the international liability it has been agreed that the critical violation on a wide basis for an important international obligation is of substantial importance to maintain the human position. For instance, the obligations prohibiting slavery, group eradication or racial discrimination. These comprise international crimes (Paragraph c of Article 18 of the drafting committee report accredited by the Committee of International Law in 1976 in their sessions No. 1402 and 1403.
4. Upon discussions of the International Law Committee, it seems that the expression on a wide scale does not mean that the international crime basis is limited to the number of people. It is rather related to the will of the State to adopt a policy that causes prejudice to human dignity. Also, the expression human structure does not mean maintaining human life only but also maintaining dignity of human person.
Accordingly, the massacre of Palmyra prison is considered by the international law for human rights as an international crime that does not go stale. The massacre is a critical violation of human rights in the whole world and a deliberate murder upon the internal Syrian legislation. This international construction appears both in the international convention to prohibit and penalize the crime of eradicating the human race and the international liability rules.
First: Crime of Palmyra Massacre according to the Convention to Prohibit human race genocide:
Article two of this Convention of which Syria is a member states that a genocide is any of the following acts done in order to partially or totally eradicate a group of people due to their patriotic, ethnic, racial or religious character:
1. Killing of the group members.
2. Serious psychological and physical attack at members of this group; the agreement to commit this crime, instigating it, attempt to commit it and participate in it.
Article Four stipulates penalty to any one committing a genocide crime or any of the acts stipulated in Article Three whether the criminal is a leader, employee or an individual.
Comparing details of Palmyra prison massacre with said convention, three points raise for discussion:
a. What is meant by partial eradication of a human group? Is there any limit to the number of people?
Preparatory work for Article Two of the Convention indicate that the expression (partially or totally eradicate) was suggested during the drafting process of the Convention at the sixth committee operating under the General Assembly of United Nations. This was meant to stress that constituents of a genocide re complete when the intention to eradicate any number no matter how few it should be. (see Paragraph 50 of the study : “Penalty of genocide” E/CN/4Sub/2/416 submitted by the special rapporteur Nikodome Rawenshisho at the sub committee to prevent discrimination and protect minorities on 4.7.1978. That means that the convention conditions did not set a number limit of people in a group becoming victim of the crime.
Given the fact that the number of victims in Palmyra Prison is more than 700 arrested people (some authority sources say it is 1183) and that they represent all the arrested in the prison of all political sects different from those of the people who ordered and executed the massacre. This massacre is only one chain within a series of other massacres committed by the Syrian authorities. Therefore, one can assure that these acts aim at eradicating the group which includes victims of these massacres no matter of what degree the genocide is.
b. What is meant with the religious group? Does it include sects within the same religion?
It is agreed in all international texts handling discrimination upon religion that the term religion does not only mean religions per se but also sects and denominations within the one religion as well. For instance, there is the Draft declaration of removing fanaticism based on religious discrimination adopted by the Human Rights Committee in its thirty-seventh session, March 1981.
The European peoples suffered a lot of this discrimination such as differentiation between Catholics and Protestants….etc. It is a unanimous agreement that wherever the word religion or religious group is mentioned, it connotes every sect and denomination the members of which agree upon certain spiritual ideals (review paragraphs 77 and 78 of the above mentioned study).
If the historical precedents in this context were limited to religious or sect groups, the case in Syria and as an exception to the rule is only the dominance of a minority on the authority especially the real authority ruling over the country.
Powerful figures of this minority practiced sect discrimination during ten years; before Palmyra Prison massacre. They discriminated against each one who does not follow the sect of this minority. They even committed genocide acts in Aleppo, Hama, Jisr Shghour, Sarmada, Palmyra….etc.
Therefore, the second article of the agreement on the religious group applies to sects and groups within the same religion. It does not apply to the victims of a genocide based on a religious minority. There can be a minority overdominating the ruling authority and commit genocide acts against the majority as is the case with the real rulers of Syria.
c. What are the criminal intentions in a genocide?
Text of Article Two of the Convention links the criminal intention with the criminal purpose. A criminal intention is achieved once there is a purpose to commit a certain genocide. This is the distinct of a genocide crime from other usual killing crimes. (See Paragraphs 96-106 of the study in Point 1).
Accordingly, and if we link the details of Palmyra massacre with its precedent period and its aftermath, we clearly discover that both the intention and the purpose are achieved in both the statements and acts of people in charge in Syria.
- The increasing collective massacres in many Syrian governorates against citizens who do not follow the sect of the real rules of Syria and who execute these massacres through selected channels of the same group. The massacres are:
a. Jisr Shghour on 10.3.1980
b. Palmyra prison on 27.6.1980
c. Sunday market in Aleppo on 13.7.1980
d. Sarmada on 25.7.1980
e. Henano in Aleppo on 11.8.1980
f. Several massacres in Hama on several dates. The las t one was the famous massacre that started on 2.2.1982.
g. Sahat Abbasyeen in Damascus on 18.8.1980.
2. Rifat Assad published an article in the official Tishreen Paper on 31.7.1980 in which he wrote: “we will wage hundred wars until we eradicate them. We know their whereabouts in Syria, in the Arab world and in the whole world.”
3. Tishreen Paper of 29.8.1980 stated that any soldier or Syrian citizen who kills one of the Muslim brothers will get an award. This call in addition to being an instigation to killing and raising sect disturbance is covered in Paragraph three which penalizes direct and public instigation to commit genocide crimes. Of course, practical implementation will not be limited to the Muslim brothers but will include every one opposing the regime.
4. Law 49 of 1980 (passed on 6.7.1980) which stipulates the death sentence against everybody joining the Muslim Brothers’ movement contributes in the first place to establish the legality of genocide crimes by the Syrian authorities and provides a legal cover for the Palmyra prison genocide which took place before the issuance of this Law. Article 5 thereof stipulates that those who are still under arrest and under trial shall not benefit from the mitigating and amnesty provisions herein. This article contradicts Article 30 of the valid Syrian Constitution for 1973 which stipulates that the provisions of laws shall not apply except to events taking place after their issuance and cannot have a date back effect.
All this proves the criminal purpose for the Syrian authorities. We can say that the elements of a genocide are all valid in all the massacres committed by the Defense Department and the special units and others upon orders and instructions of political leaders. Therefore, those who order and execute are international criminals as per articles one and four of the Convention.
Second: Palmyra Massacre is an international crime:
According to the international liability rules, the international opinion is a serious violation of any international commitment of a substantial importance to maintain the human person and it is an international crime (Paragraph c of Article 18 of the International Liability Rules as in the draft copy by the Drafting Committee)
Now, the question is: Has the contemporary world community known of such a serious violation to the obligation to maintain the human person? Is there a more serious and cruel violation than this?
If the international liability rules have not been completed by the International Law Committee yet, it does not mean that this massacre must not be considered as an international crime. For, rules drafted by the International Law Committee will not establish this liability but will announce it as these rules are derived from the UN Convention. These are rules to be announced rather than established.
Palmyra massacre and the other massacres committed by the Syrian authorities against the Syrian people fall under the international criminal criterion. According to the agreement issued by the UN on 16.1.1968, crimes committed by the people in charge do not become stale.
Article three of the Agreement on Preventing and Penalizing Genocide Crimes stipulate a penalty against those who commit the following acts:
1. Genocide execution.
2. Agreement for the purpose of executing a genocide.
3. Direct and public instigation to commit genocide.
4. Attempting a genocide.
5. Participation in a genocide.
Article four of said agreement stipulates a penalty to each one committing a genocide or an of the acts stipulated in Article three whether they are rulers, employees or individuals. In documentation of this unprecedented crime in the modern history, we must go back to the literal text of affidavits by those participating in Palmyra Prison as stated in the investigations published in the Jordanian documents on 25.2.1981.
Syrian Human Rights Committee and their stand towards the massacre:
a. The Syrian Human Rights Committee requests the Syrian authorities t
1. announce names of victims in this horrible massacre.
2. Announce burial venue of the victims’ corpses.
3. Announce names of all in charge of and involved in massacre.
4. Refer each responsible and each involved person in this massacre to an independent court to issue the final say.
5. Permit delegates of the human rights organizations and the international community bodies to attend the trials and hearings of those in charge of and involved in this massacre.
6. Provide moral and financial compensation for the victims’ families for all the damages they incurred.
7. Submit an apology to the victims’ families for concealing the destiny of their dear members ; which resulted in destructive and social impacts.
8. Submit an apology to the Syrian people for this cruel massacre which cannot be justified.
b. The Syrian Human Rights Committee calls upon the UN Human Rights Committee and upon all the human and legal organizations to put moral pressure on the Syrian authorities until they submit to the just and fair demand to disclose the mystery of this massacre which has been discarded for so long.
c. In order for the Syrian authorities to fulfill the above requests, the Syrian Human Rights Committee calls upon the human, legal and international organizations to chase those responsible for this crime and who are not now subject to the power of the Syrian judiciary in order to refer them to trial due to the genocide crime.
Names of Planners and Executors of the Massacre:
1. Lieutenant Colonel Rifa’t Assad, Leader of the Defense Department, Kirdaha, Latakia
2. Lieutenant Colonel Ali Theib, Leader of Legion 138 of the Defense Department, Latakia
3. Major Mu’in Nasif, Leader of Legion 40 of the Defense Department
4. Maajor Suleiman Mustafa, Field Leader of Legion 138 of the Defense Department in Latakia
5. Lieutenant Yaser Bakir of Legion 40 of the Defense Department of Hamat.
6. Sergeant Munir Darwish, of Legion 40 of Defense Department, Latakia
7. Sergeant Ra’if Abdullah of Legion 40 of the Defense Department of Latakia
8. Sergeant Moh’d Ammar of the guards of Mu’in Nasif’s house, Latakia
9. Sergeant Ali Musa of Legion 40 of the Defense Department, Homs
10. Sergeant Human Ahmed, of legion 40 of the Defense Department, Jableh
11. Sergeant Nazih Bloul of Legin 40 of Defense Department, Homs
12. Sergeant Talal MuhiEddin Ahmad of Legion 40 of Defense Department, Latakia
13. Sergeant Isa Ibrahim Fayad, of the guards of Mu’in Nasif’s house in Latakia
14. Soldier Akram Beishani of Legion 40 of Defense Department of Tartous
15. Soldier Ibrahim Yunes of Legion 40 of Defense Department of homs
16. Soldier Ibrahim Mekna of Legion 40 of Defense Department, Jableh
17. Soldier Tahehr Zbaadi, of Legion 40 of Defense Department in Latakia
18. Soldier Ali Salha of Legion 40 of Defense Department of Misyaf
19. Soldier Abdul Rahman Hadlan of Legion 40 of the Defense Department
20. Soldier Naser AbdelLatif of Legion 40 of the Defense Department in Tartous.
21. Soldier Ghassan Shehadeh of Legion 40 of Defense Department, Latakia
22. Sergeant Badr Mansour of Legion 40 of Defense Department, Homs
23. Soldier Hussein Issa of Legion 40 of Defense Department in Homs
24. Soldier Bashir Qello of Legion 40 of Defense Department in homs
25. Lieutenant Colonel Faisal Ghanem, Director of Palmyra Prison at time of the massacre.
Confessions by two of the participants in the Massacre:
First Witness: Akram Bishani
Q: introduce yourself
A: I’m Akram Jamil Bishani from Tartous, Yahmour villge in 1960. Single. I have the sixth grade certificate, I’m of the Alawi **sect. My father is Jamil Bishani, he’s an Alawi. My mother is Halima Ya’coub. Both live in Yahmour now.
Q: What do you do?
A: Now, I’m a soldier a the Defense Department
Q: How long have you served in the Army?
A: on 23.3.1979 I joined the Defense Department. I was trained in Qaboun Camp in Damascus. There we joined two courses of Language and special military arts. Then I was moved to artillery battalion No. 149 of the legion 40 of the Defense Department. In May of 1980 I was moved to the guard group of Major Mu’in Nasif house. The group has about 25 members.
Q: What is the position of Major Mu’in Nasif?
A: He’s a leader, he’s the leader of legion 40 of the Defense Department. He’s an Alawi from Latakia. He married daughter of Lieutenant General Rifa’t Assad (Tamadur Assa). Rifa’t is the brother of President Hafez Assad and he’s leader of the Defense Department.
Q: What are the jobs you were assigned to do during your service at the Defense Department?
A: I was assigned to do two jobs, first to attack Palmyra prison and the second one was in Jordan.
Q: What was the first assignment?
A: The first assignment was to ttack Palmyra Prison. After the aattempt to assassinate President Hafez Assad in June, last year. They woke us up on the second day. They made get up of our beds at 3:30 a.m. and said that there was a meeting at the cinema hall in the legion. We had to take all our field arms. We went out and got to the cinema. Groups began coming to the cinema. The group from legion 40 counted about 100 members with three officers. Then, the leader came and met us and delivered a speech. Then, he said that the Muslim Brothers killed officers, aged people, doctors and at the end they tried to kill President Hafez Assa. Now, we shall give you the first fighting assignment. Then, we went out of the Legion 40 in cars to the Mezza airport. There, we found aa group of Legion 132 of about 100 members. Major Ali Theib is the leader of that legion. He’s an Alawi from Ltakia. We also found there 9 helicopters. They gathered us in groups; each under an officer. They made us go on board of planes each of which takes 24 members. We went out of Mezza airport. There, the leader of the task was Ali Theib. I didn’t know his name then. We took off at about 5:00 to Palmyra airport where we arrived at about 6-6:10 a.m.There we were convened and the leader asked a meeting for the officers. He gathered the officers and told them to give the soldiers a break for 45 minutes. After that we were divided into grops. Legion 40 was three groups each under one officer. Then, they randomly selected soldiers who will go into Palmyra prison. They used to call those they knew their names or to give a sign by hand to those they didn’t know their names. They selected about 80 soldiers to protect planes. The others were left as reserve in the airport. Then, the selected soldiers who would execute the operation went in groups to the prison. After 45 minutes of getting from the main gate, we heard fire shooting and explosions. Bombs were about 7 that exploded there. Fire shooting went on for about 45 minutes. Soldiers went out the way they had got in and in groups.
Q: With which group you were?
A: I was with the reserve group who stayed at the airport. After the soldiers went out of the prison some of them were covered with blood; namely, Sergeant Abdullah, Sergeant Munir Darwish, Sergeant Ali Moh’d Musa. We helped them get on board of the plane.
Q: From Legion 40 or?
A: No, these from legion 40. Then, we went on board of planes as we had come. We returned to Mezza airpot. The thing which made me know that we had an injured was that Lietenant Yaser Bakir from Legion 40 addressed all the soldiers saying that the leader wanted to meet us in the cinema. He told us if he asked who was injured tell him that it was a coming back bullet which hit the wall and then came back then, he was injured. We said that OK we should do it as he asked. Then, we went to Legion 40 and met at the cinema.
Q: Did you all go together, you and Legion 138 members or Legion 40 alone?
A: Legion 40 alone. Those went to their camp in legion 40, I mean people who participated from Legion 40 gathered and the leader of the legion came and extended to them a letter of thanks.
Q: That was Major Mu’in Nasif?
A: Major Mu’in Nasif delivered to them a speech of thanks and told them that they had done a champion work that only men can do although it was the first time they were assigned to do it. Then, we went out of the cinema house and everybody was speaking to his colleague. I met one of my colleagues; Sergeant Ali Moh’d Musa from the guard group of Mu’in Nasif. I asked him because he was one of those who went into the prison how the operation had been done. He told me that they divided them into groups each of them under the rule of an officer. As he told me, they used to open doors of rooms with prisoners and shoot fire at them directly without any question. I asked him if those had released any SOS calls. He said that they did and they used to say, “Allah Akbar” God the Almighty and they begged the soldiers in name of God, the prophet, their sisters, mothers… but in vain. The soldiers did not listen to all that begging and they had shot them before they left the place. I asked him about the number of those killed and he informed me that it was about 500-600 of the prisoners. On the second day those who participated in the massacre were given 200 Syrian Lira for each.
Q: Who do you know of those who participated in the operation?
A:I know Sergeant Naser Abdul Latif from Tartous or Latakia maybe, he’s an Alawi. I know Sergeant Ali Moh’d Musa from Homs, I know Sergeant Taher Ziadi from Latakia- an Alawi, Sergeant Talal MuhiEddin Ahmad from Latakia, an Alawi, Sergeant Naxih Bloul, an Alawi from Homs, Sergeant Hussein Isa, an Alawi from Homs, and Sergeant Human Ahmed from Lataki, an Alawi. These are all the people I know from among those participating in the operation.
Q: Who do you know of the officers who participated in it?
A: Officers are lieuftenant Abdullah from the infantry battalion of the legion 40 from Latakia and an Alawi. Also, Lieutenant Yaser Bakir from Legion 40 and he’s from Hama district.
Affidavit of second witness: Issa Ibrahim Fayad
Q: Introduce yourself
A: Issa Ibrahim Hamed Fayad, I’m from Qweiqa village in Latakia. I was born in 1960. I’m single, an Alawi. My father is Ibrahim Hamed Fayad. He’s a farmer. My mother is Jamila Saqr, a housewife. I studied up to the eleventh grade in the village (till 3rd preparatory in my village. Then I left to Ein AlArous village where I studied at the high school of Latakia govenorate. I left school. I worked with my father as a farmer for one year. Then I joined the Defense Department on 10.3.1979. Now, I’m a Sergeant at the Defense Dept. My number is (956982)
Q: Mr. Issa explain to us your service in some details.
A: I joined the Defense Department in a camp called Qaboun as a junior course for about 45 days. Then I joined another course of special military arts in the same camp for about three months or more. Then, we moved from Al-Qaboun to Yacoub Camp in Damascus for a course in regular fighting, I mean an infantry battalion. We had training on guns, bomb shooter, bomb throwing and other regular training of the infantry. The course went on for about three months. Then, we went back to AlQaboun. There we had the parachute course for about 25-30 days. Then, we joined Legion 40 under Major General* Mu’in Nasif- son in law of Rifat Assad. He’s an Alawi from Latakia. I went on with this regular training of battalion 302 in the same legion until I was assigned with the guard group of Major Mu’in Nasif who was the legion leader. The guard group comprised about 25 people under the rule of Sergeant Salah Ibrahim, an Alawi- he and all the guards are of the Alawi sect.
Q: Issa, what are the tasks we were assigned during your service at the Defense Department?
A: I was assigned with two tasks.
Q: What was the first one?
A: The first one was that of Palmyra prison. On 26.6.1980, President Hafez Assad was targeted with an assassination attemp. At dawn the follwing day, 27.6.1980, they woke us at three dawn and said that we had a meeting that we should attend with our full uniform and arms. We gathered in the yard and they took us to the Cinema in Legion 40. There, Major Mu’in Nasif – leader of the legion was waiting for us. He delivered a speech in front of us and said that those bastards the Muslim brothers were not differentiating among the Muslim of the Alawi sect or of the Sunni sect and the Christian. They are killing people and they tried to assassinate the President. Therefore, he said, today you will implement a larger attack to their biggest resort which is Palmyra prison. He asked if there was anybody who did not want to fight. None raised hand. The military commander asked us to go on cars to the old Mezzeh airport. There was a group of 82 members waiting for us. When we arrived, a group from Legion 138 which is one of the Defense Department sections and whose leader wass Lieutenant Colonel Ali Theib, an Alawi from Latakia. We also had the officers of Lieutenaant yaser Bakir, an Alawi from Hama and Lieutenant Munir Darwish, an Alawi, and Lieutenant Ra’if Abdullah, an Alawi. Those three were from Legion 40. We went on planes towards Palmyra. We arrived about 6:30 in the morning of the same day. There, we got off planes and they divided us into a raiding group and the other group stayed at the airport. There was a Dodge Truck to move the group to prison. In the prison we split in about six groups or even more. My group had 11 people. That means that the total was about sixty people. My group was under the rule of Lieutenant Munir Darwish. They opened doors of dormitory to us. We went in, about six or seven. We killed all those who were there; about sixty to seventy people. I knew that one of the killed took the gun of my colleague Iskandar Ahmed- a Sergeant. I went to him and saw him. One was calling me. When I asked him what he wanted, he told me to give him ammunition because there was one left who didn’t die yet. I asked him to give me his gun as I had given mine to my colleague. His gun was broken. I took the gun and shot about 15 people. Total of those bastard Muslim brothers who were killed at the prison was 550 ones. Total killed from the Defense Department was one and two injured. We went out to wash our hands and legs. Some of use were covered with blood. Lieutenant Ra’if Abdullah was there and they asked him why he was isolating the prisoners as singles. He said, “Yesterday, they were killing our brothers in Aleppo at the Artillary College.
Q: How was he isolating the prisoners?
A: That means that he’d kill the one who had not been killed.
Q: Attending them?
A: Yes. I said there was another one who shot somebody who did not die. He told him, come let’s kill him I didn’t any of the Muslim brothers’ gang.
We went in one car. We were moved to the airport where the group who had stayed there were waiting for us along with the helicopters.
Q: How long did this task take?
A: It took half an hour. There was noise of bombs and calls of ALLAH AKBAR (God the Almighty). We went on planes to the old airport of Mezzeh. There the group of legion 138 went back to the legion and that of 40 went to it. Major Mu’in Nasif – leader of the legion was waiting for us. He thanked us for the effort and condoled us for the death of our colleague. Then, he ordered us to join our work stations and so did we.
Q: You explained your role but you did not explain your colleagues’ roles in that operation?
A: For instance, Moh’d Ammar killed that who killed Iskandar Ahmed. That was the Sergeant who was killed as they took his gun from him and killed him. He told me that he also shot in the dormitory Ibrahim Mu’nes, an Alawi from Misyat who was aasigned to guard Mu’in Nasif’s house. He told me that he shot fire, I don’t know what for but he told me that he shot fire.
Q: Did he define a certain number of those he had shot?
A: Never. He said that Ibrahim Mekna was with Lieutenant Ra’ef Abdullah and Ibrahim Mekna is an Alawi, a Sergeant from Jebda in Latakia. He used to isolate the prisoners along with Ra’if Abdullah.
Q: Where did they tell you this about their roles?
A: Ibrahim Mekna, I saw him with Leiutenant Ra’if Abdullaah. Ibrahim Yunes told me this at the dormitory; we were going down town and he told me thaat. Moh’d Ammar said, “I killed this who had killed Iskandar Ahmed”.
Q: When you came back form the prison, did you receive any order?
A: Major Muu’in said that this operation must be a secret among us. It must be confidential with no disclosure.
Q: With regard to Palmyra Prison, how was the whole atmosphere in the prison before implementing this operation?
A: It was calm with no noise. It was turned out that things had been prepared before entering the place. Nobody prevented us from going in, the police were there. There was a guard group at the gate and a guard chief. There were police in the yard and they took attendance of the prisoners before the operation.
Q: Took attendance of the prisoners?
A: Before starting the operation.
Testimonies for Justice sake?
A lot has been said about Palmyra massacre. But the most recent statement about it was that by the Syrian Journalist Nizar Nayuf after his release in June 2001. He assured that he discovered collective graves of the victims of Palmyra massacre in the early nineties. With the help of forensic medicine, he could define the traits of bullets and bombs on bones of the dead. He said that this was the main reason for arresting him for nine years and a half.
The other recent statement is that by the British journalist Robert Fisk, reporter of the London “Independent” who has worked as a reporter in the Middle East for three decades. Fisk visited the Palmyra prison venue after the massacre in the early eighties. When its topic has been recently raised, he wrote the following article:
Ghosts of victims of Palmyra Massacre come back to chase the new Syrian Ruler
After Arael Sharon and the war crime accusations that the victims of Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1982 want to release against him, it seems that it’s now Syria’s turn to answer the questions about the collective graves.
Nizar Nayuf, a journalist from Damascus has been recently released from prison where he was detained as a political prisoner. Now, he lives in Paris and threatens to disclose the place of the collective grave in Syria. Everybody knows that he speaks about a place called Tadmur Palmyra. Now, another Christian group of the Maronite sect request to open what they say is a collective grave in Berzeh in Lebanon located near the Defense Ministry in Beirut. Everybody knows that they mean the Lebanese soldiers killed by the Syrian forces at the end of the civil war in 1990.
Mr. Nayuf who also threatens to disclose corruption in the security cadres of Syria says that Syrian agents (of the Intelligence) kidnapped him in Damascus before the visit of President Bashar Assad to France last month. They beat him because they mistakenly thought that he was about to ask for political asylum to the French Embassy. In fact, he says, that he was on his way to see his doctor.
In all cases, President Assad or Dr. Bashar as known the Opthalmist , son of the late Presiden Hafez Assad in his own country, announced in Paris that Mr. Nayuf is free to leave Syria. Within hours, he was told, he could take his passport.
In the Middle East, everybody knows the collective grave that Mr. Nayuf wants to disclose. It is the hole outside Tadmur, the Syrian city known in the West as Palmyra, the old ancient Roman city. There about 500 prisoners of the local governmental prison were buried after the massacre of June 27, 1980. They were killed by the so-called “Defense Department” under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Rifa’t Assad- uncle of Bashar and brother of Hafez Assad. Now is in exile. Those men the majority of whom are of the Muslim Brothers Group were killed on the background of an assassination attempt against President Hafez Assad.
Journalist Patrick Ceil in his biography of the President Assad narrates how the men of Rifat who counted for 120 arrived into Palmyra Prison in a fleet of helicopter early in the morning. They were released to plunge the prison’s dormitories with the instructions to kill all those sleeping there. Many of the arrested were killed while they were shouting Allah Akbar (God the Almighty). Then, their corpses were secretely buried later on near a small hill outside the desert city. Many Syrian think that hundreds of the other political prisoners died either because of torture or they were hanged to death. These also are buried in graves near the hill. A civilian from Palmyra told me long ago that when Syria permits us, we shall go to the hill and put flowers on the graves. However, so far no flowers were put there yet.
In Berzeh, there is another story of pain and grief that dates back to 1990 when Michael Awn, the revolutionary Lebanese General who thought he was the President was fighting the Syrian army to “liberate” Lebanon. After the Syrians implemented an air bombing against Awn’s Palace upon an American permit because Washington wanted to support President Hafez Assad under the Gulf coalition against Saddam Hussein. Then, Awn fled to the French Embassy in Beirut and called his soldiers to cease fire. However, in a hill in the suburbs of Beirut called “Dahr Al Wahsh” Back of the Monster , the Lebanese forces did not receive the latest command from Awn. Therefore, the soldiers fired against the Syrian forces who were coming through a landmine field.
At least 150 Syrian soldiers who thought that the Lebanese surrendered were killed into pieces by the Mortar and the revolving guns amidst the landmines. When the others reached the Lebanese locations, they started with killing Awn’s followers as hunters and illegal followers who deviated rules of the war. Nobody is sure of the number of soldiers who were killed. A day later, I found some of them in a non-refrigerated place to display corpses in Ba’bda. They were shot in the head while their hands were tied to their backs. Most of them were without clothes when killed. Then, Albert Mansour, the Minister of Defense at that time that what happened was a double massacre for the Syrians and the Lebaneses.
Why should the Christians stand in eager to open the Berzeh cemetery? Maybe, they want to confuse the Syrians and make it difficult for the President Assad who was 24 years old at that time and had nothing to do with killing. When Palmyra massacre took place he was only 14 years old.
Finally, if the Christina group is eager to know the truth about the Lebanese blood bath, they can request to open another cemetery in Sidon which includes a number of the corpses of the Lebanese Muslim prisoners who were killed by Israeli guards near the fruit factory o f Safa in 1982. Then, I myself investigated this killing process. The Christian group can, also, request to open the cemetery of the Maronite revolts who were killed by their Christian peers when they tried to smash the Lebanese Forces Militia just before the end of the civil war. However, they just stay silent with regard to these cemeteries.
 Description by an ex prisoner in Palmyra prison. Review the report: “Syria: torture, desperation and deprivation of humanity in the military jail of Palmyra” issued by Amnesty International, September 2001.
 Quoted from the report called “the twentieth anniversary of Palmyra massacre” issued by the Syrian Human Rights Committee, June 2000.
 By late advisor Moh’d Anjarini
 Human rights’ advocates must not ignore the crimes committed by the powerful figures against followers of their same sect even.
 Taken from the Jordanian documents published on 25 Feb. 1981. The confessions are poor in language as they are recorded as said in spoken language.
** Alawi: the official name of the Nusairis inhabiting the coastal district of Latakia in NW Syria (translator)
* as stated in the source text. I think it must be major according to the previous occurrences of this word.
 The “Independent” London on 9.7.2001