A prison in Lebanon where thousands have been tortured

 

Hussein will never forget the night in 1998 when his Israeli interrogators finished with him. "Now you will go to Khiam," one of the three men who had questioned him all day in heavily accented Arabic said, referring to the prison where thousands of Israel's enemies and their relatives have been tortured.

"You will go to the dogs like you," one of the Israelis said. "And they will know how to get what they want from you." The "dogs" are Israel's own South Lebanon Army militia and General Security Services - Lebanese who are paid, trained and armed by Israel to enforce its occupation of the south. Now, as Israel withdraws, the liberation of 160 men and women still held at Khiam is at stake.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are unanimous in their condemnation of arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without trial - for as long as 14 years - and torture at Khiam. Israeli officials have admitted to visiting Khiam interrogators several times a year. As the occupying power, Israel is legally responsible for the actions of the SLA. Yet, Israel has encouraged the SLA to torment their fellow Lebanese, and Israeli agents even contribute questions for their interrogation by e-mail.

Hussein was released from Khiam earlier this month, after more than two years' incarceration. Because he fears for relatives still living in the Israeli-occupied zone, his full story cannot yet be told.

A well-educated civilian in his mid-30s, Hussein's health is broken. His back is permanently damaged since SLA men hit him on the spine with the butt of a Kalashnikov at Khiam. He limps and his feet are swollen, and he takes heart-stabilising medicine daily. I met one of his younger brothers who was also imprisoned at Khiam. He suffered a dislocated jaw and broken ear-drum from the beatings he endured.

Ironically, the one brother whom the Israelis really wanted - one whom they wrongly suspected of working for Lebanese military intelligence and who refused large sums of money to become an Israeli informer - slipped through their fingers.

The General Security Services took Hussein to the border crossing at Metulla, where he was taken to an Israeli Shin Bet office. Unlike the SLA, the Israelis did not beat him. "But there were threats. They said, `We will destroy your parents' house,' " Hussein explains. "We will destroy your house. We will throw you out of the area if you don't co-operate."

After interrogation by the Israelis, Hussein was handed back to the SLA, who handcuffed and blindfolded him, then held his head to the floor of their car for the short drive to Khiam. That first night, one of Hussein's interrogators held a pistol to his head, saying, "We are a militia. No one can control us. One life in Lebanon is nothing. If we kill you we will say it was an accident."

For two months, Hussein went back and forth between the interrogation room where he was continuously beaten, and three "black rooms" numbered 13, 14 and 15. "The black rooms are boxes barely big enough to hold a man. When they close the door, you cannot see your own finger. There is a waste bucket in the corner," Hussein said.

Hanging from an electricity pylon in the prison courtyard is standard treatment for new arrivals. "They asked me to take all my clothes off except my underwear," Hussein recalled. "It was early spring, and it was cold. They hang you by your handcuffs high up on the pole, so that only the tips of your toes touch the ground. Then they sprayed me with cold water, every 15 minutes so that I never dried off. I stayed on that pole until dawn, when I heard the muezzin calling `Allahu Akbar'. "

Hussein was only threatened with electrical torture. One of his friends, who is still in Khiam today, was in a nearby interrogation room. "I heard him screaming very loudly. Later, when I shared a cell with him, he had burn marks on his wrists where they put the electricity under his handcuffs. They use an old crank system, like a telephone. They still use electricity if they have difficulty getting answers."

Many Lebanese fear the torturers of Khiam will, like their leader, Gen Antoine Lahd, escape to Europe or north America when the Israelis withdraw. Hussein and his brothers want their names published, in the hope they may be refused visas.

Jean Homsi, Wakim Nahra, Salam Fakhoury, Abed Sirha, Ongi El Haj and Samir Moussalem were the cruellest among them, they say.

"They have been torturing people for 15 years, and now they are going to become tourists in Europe," Hussein said. "It makes me very angry."

The South Lebanon Army militia detained a Lebanese doctor and his daughter on suspicion of dealing with the Hizbullah guerrilla group, an SLA source said yesterday.

The source said Dr Ibrahim Harb and his daughter, Malak (19), were seized in the town of Bint Jbeil inside the western sector of Israel's occupation zone. They were taken to Khiam prison.