April 15, 2013

Abo al-Baraa al-Julani is a nickname for someone SAS News reporter Ahmed Kwider has known for his entire life. Al-Julani, 30, is a former sergeant in the feared Air Force Intelligence. Yet in 2011, he went from being a regime enforcer to one of its victims, and was charged with being a member of an armed gang of rebels. Al-Julani denies the accusation. Today, he lives in Outer Damascus province and works as a barber.

Q: Tell us about your previous life with Air Force Intelligence.

I was a [part time] driver for the head of the Air Force [Intelligence] branch in Damascus. We used to take detainees to Military Security branch, depending on orders we received from the Air Force Intelligence Administration. I only brought [the detainees] but didn’t watch what happened afterwards. When they arrested me, I told them “I’m your colleague.” They didn’t listen. 

I never imagined I would be worthless in my own country that I served.

Q: Where were you detained? What were you charged with?

A: I was detained at the Anti-Corruption and Terror Department which is part of State Security, located on Baghdad Street in Damascus. It’s run by Brigadier General Hafez Makhlouf [a first cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad]. I was accused of being a member of an armed gang that transferred arms to Daraa’s rebels.

Q: How long did you spend in detention? What were the conditions there?

A: [I was detained] for 19 days. Detainees there are treated like numbers. They don’t treat them like humans. They use the worst types of torture; they pull out nails, apply electric shocks, and beat [prisoners] on all their body parts.

There were women, including the activist Marwa al-Ghamian and her sister. She was released and now is in Amman. There were Arab journalists as well.

Q: How do they treat women?

A: They don’t distinguish between men and women. I used to hear their screams all night. The prison guards on the night shift torture prisoners for fun.

Q: What is the experience that had the most impact on you such circumstances?

A: They make the men recently arrested take off their clothes and then they beat them hard. I remember that one of the guys was killed under torture. I knew [he was dead] when I heard one of the guards saying “Throw the dog in front of his house. [This is for] the freedom he wanted.”

During the first hours of detention, they made us take off our clothes and tied our hands and eyes. They were beating us all. We didn’t know how many were beating us or being beaten with us.

Q: How do they handle the prisoners’ wounds, infections and health conditions?

A: They don’t provide any care. They rarely suture some wounds without anesthetize. They don’t pay attention to infection and minor injuries. They only suture deep wounds and they do it quickly without mercy.

Q: What and where are the prisons run by the 4th division? How did you know?

A: I served at one of these branches, so I had a chance to learn about all these security branches. There is al-Tahoneh [Mill] Prison in the Radio and Television building. There is a prison in Regiment 42 on Lebanon highway, in al-Sabborah. The prison in Regiment 41 is in Moadamiyah, near al-Soumarieh Residences. All of these prisoners are immediately run by Brigadier General Maher al-Assad. There is also another prison in Mezzah’s western villas, near al-Shaab Palace, run by the elite of Division 4. Regiment 100 in Jidaydat Artoz also contains a prison.

Q: Who run these prisons? Are they civilians, soldiers or shabiha?

A: All the elements of Division 4 are very loyal Alawite soldiers. They are the elite in the Presidential Guards. I’ve known this division for 10 years and I don’t know anyone in it who isn’t an Alawite.

Q: How does the FSA treat its detainees? Are there any excesses?

A: The FSA surround army checkpoints before hitting them. Once they know they will be able to capture a checkpoint, they don’t shoot directly and give chance for its soldiers to surrender. As for the officers, such as one well-known leader who ordered many executions, they receive different treatment.

There are some mistakes but these are very limited compared to the way the Assad army treats prisoners.

Q: Does the FSA torture officers accused of killing during investigation?

A: Captured officers know exactly what the word ‘torture’ means. They’re cowards and they confess everything [once they hear the word], because they fear for their lives more than anything.

The FSA needs to know the names of the detainees [by the regime] and who are the leaders storming and bombing the cities.