"Amer Fakhoury used to orchestrate the torture sessions” at the Khiam Prison
Two former detainees from the infamous Khiam prison tell L’OLJ about the role of the former military leader of the South Lebanon Army.
Like many other resistants living in villages close to the border during the Israeli occupation, Hammud was imprisoned in January 1988 “for refusing to collaborate with the SLA.” He had been arrested around 20 times before and incarcerated for periods ranging from three to 10 days. "I certainly belonged to the resistance, but the SLA had no evidence against me at the time of my arrest," the former detainee says.
On the first day of his incarceration in Khiam, Hammud was stripped of his identity and given a cell number that will forever be engraved in his memory: 1188. The trauma of having his name replaced by a number was equal to the pain of physical and psychological torture. "They took away my homeland and my identity. I felt as if my whole being had just been completely annihilated. I stopped existing.” he says.
That first day was only the beginning of a long ordeal for Hammud, who was 23 at the time. Over the course of the following 11 years, he experienced the full range of torture techniques that were carried out under the orders and supervision of Amer Fakhoury. Hammud carries the physical and emotional scars to this day, and shared his stories of humiliation, sickness, hunger and electrocution with L’OLJ.
The torturers would hang him from a pole and douse him with hot water in the summertime and cold water in the wintertime to deepen the pain, Hammud says. He remembers it like it was yesterday. "[The jailers] used to whip our bodies with electrical cables until our skin got lacerated. Amer Fakhoury was the one who orchestrated the torture sessions," he recalls.
There was a cell in Khaim that was as small as a dog kennel. Detainees would be locked up in it for four hours at a time, usually during their initial interrogations, when the torture was the worst. “They put me in a dungeon that was 75 cm wide and 75 cm high. Five hours later, I felt like my body broke into a thousand pieces. During the torture sessions they would operate a noisy engine in order to cover our cries of pain and to make sure that the residents living nearby would not hear," he says.
Hammud’s mother, who was in her 50s at the time, was also arrested, a technique frequently used by the SLA to pressure detainees and extort confessions. "She also suffered deeply and went through deep humiliations," Hammud says, without going into further detail.
Hassib Abdel Hamid was 18 years old when he was imprisoned in 1988. Four years later, he was released as part of an exchange with Israel that saw about 50 people set free. But in the four years he was in Khiam, like other prisoners, he was subjected to the full array of brutalities ordered by Amer Fakhoury, who often took part in the torture alongside the other jailers.
"Amer Fakhury was a military official in charge of prison security. Although he was not always directly involved in the investigations, he was often involved in torture sessions and in operations aimed at terrorizing the detainees to extract confessions,” Abdel Hamid says.
When a mutiny broke out in Khaim in November 1989, Fakhoury––currently being held in Lebanon––gave the order to put it down by launching gas bombs into cells and threatening to kill detainees who did not comply with orders. "I remember that two detainees, Bilal Salam and Ibrahim Abu Ezze, died from asphyxiation," says Abdel Hamid.
The hardest period in Khiam for Abdel Hamid came right before the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visited the prison in 1995. Under outside pressure, ICRC was given permission to regularly visit the detention center and often intervened to ensure that detainees’ relatives could visit them. "Before 1995, the situation of the prisoners was extremely difficult. In addition to torture, which included daily beatings with sticks or electrical cables, the living conditions in the cells were inhumane," says Abdel Hamid.
Locked up in narrow cells, the prisoners had to go to the bathroom in buckets that the jailers sometimes refused to empty for several days. "We were then forced to relieve ourselves in the same space where we slept,” Abdel Hamid recalls.
The height of the cruelty was when prisoners were made to pay the price for acts of resistance committed by others. "Whenever the resistance carried out a military attack against the Israelis, the prisoners ended up paying a heavy price," Abdel Hamid adds. “Then the violence would increase tenfold."
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 14th of september)