"I thought I was dead when they pulled out my toe nails and put my feet in ice water," said a Syrian man, recounting the excruciating torture he endured while imprisoned by the Syrian regime for over three years after completing his military service.
Muhammad Ahmad Ammar, 29, surrendered to regime forces in 2010 to serve his compulsory military service but was not given his discharge papers when he reached the end of his service in October 2011, a few months after the start of the civil war.
Thinking about desertion, Ammar asked his family for help, he told Anadolu Agency (AA).
"In April 2012, someone from my village called me. ‘We'll take you from there and bring you back to your village,' [he said]," Ammar remembered, noting that he accepted the offer, even though he thought it was impossible.
"Because the area I served in, Jabal al-Sheikh, was near the Israeli border, it was almost impossible to escape from there," he added.
Ammar said he was brought to the colonel's room within 12 hours of the phone call, adding that he understood then that the phone call had been recorded.
"I never thought they would record the phone call," he said, underlining that he and the colonel did not even know each other. Ammar said he accepted the accusations to avoid torture, but the soldiers nonetheless bound his arms behind his back before he was beaten and questioned.
"They pulled out my nails and whipped [my feet] more than 2,000 times. I thought I was dead when they put my feet in ice water," he recounted.
Days in Damascus
Ammar said he was sent to a security unit in the town of Sa'sa, southwest of the capital Damascus, where he was asked about his planned escape and would-be partner.
He said, "They tortured me so much that I confessed to a crime I had not committed."
Telling him of the recorded phone call against him, they assured Ammar he would be set free in a few months.
He said he was forced to run errands in the security unit and witnessed the torture of other detainees.
"They gave people electric shocks on their sexual organs. They brought a youth to our room. He was fine when he came," Ammar said, adding that by the next day, he had been beaten so badly that his whole body was swollen.
"They told us not to talk to him," he said. Ammar said he was transferred to a new security unit when one of its former occupants was tortured to death.
After that, he said, he was relocated again to a cell so small and narrow that a youth from Aleppo had died there due to suffocation.
"Hanging from the ceiling, electric shocks, solitary confinement, wheel torture… We had seen everything," Ammar said, adding that tortured victims were blindfolded in some cases.
Torture in Saydnaya Prison
Sent to Saydnaya Prison, 18 kilometers from the Lebanese border, Ammar stayed for 14 months in one of the most well-known torture centers of the Syrian regime before appearing in military court.
"We saw torture with electric [shock], wheels and other tools. They would hit brutally and randomly. We would get exhausted," he recalled.
"I was released after a decision to be awarded amnesty in July 2014. Actually, the judge had accused me of false charges, including conspiracy against the state," he said, adding that he was sent to a disciplinary unit in Tadmur in western Homs province, since he was a soldier.
He also noted that they were sent back to Damascus when Daesh terrorists attacked Tadmur. They were then sent to an area in Homs and to Deir el-Zour from there.
"I escaped after I was sent to Deir el-Zour by paying a $2,200 bribe to regime officers with the help of my relatives," Ammar said, noting that it was how he reunited with his family in the northwestern Idlib province.
The Syrian Human Rights Network (SNHR) announced that over 14,000 civilians have died of torture since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011. "Some 14,227 individuals [including 177 children, 62 women] have died due to torture at the hands of the main parties in the conflict in Syria between March 2011 and June 2019," according to the SNHR report, which marks the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, falling on June 26. Torture by Bashar Assad regime forces made up 14,070 of this number, including 173 children and 45 women. According to the report, around 127,916 people are currently in detention or have simply disappeared during the same period.
The report stressed that the figures consisted of only those that can be identified and that the real death toll is much higher.