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 http://www.independent.co.uk/news/World/Middle_East/2000-05/fisk200500.shtml

Khiam jail, where torture is routine and by remote control

By Robert Fisk, The Idependent, 20 May 2000



Khiam is an awful place. Electrical wires attached to the penis and feet, constant whipping, cold nights attached to a pole while pails of freezing water are thrown over near-naked bodies. Are the Israelis likely to leave this dreadful institution behind when they withdraw from Lebanon? Will they leave the last 160 prisoners - hostages of Israel for the return of missing Israeli soldiers - as witnesses to this shameful episode in history? Or take them away?

Officially run by Israel's collapsing "South Lebanon Army" militia, the interrogators have been obsessive as well as cruel men. The questions come from Israel tapped on e-mail from Metulla to a computer screen in the little torture room in Khiam. And, not so long ago, this question came over the computer screen: "When he came to your village, did Fisk talk about forged $100 bills? Did he mention Lubrani's name?"

The man who received these two questions was stunned - so was I when I heard about them. I had written an article in The Independent on the circulation of fake $100 bills in southern Lebanon, many of them among the salaries paid to SLA by their Israeli masters. Lebanese banks think these bills are forged in Israel. But I had never connected this with Uri Lubrani, Israel's so-called adviser to Lebanon. So why did the Israeli interrogators ask this? And why did they also ask - their computerised questions translated into Arabic by the torturers of Khiam - if I had been to the village of Jibchit in southern Lebanon and what were my contacts with Hizbollah?

Stupidity, of course, plays a part in all intelligence wars. My own book on Lebanon's war is in the Khiam jail library - sent there by the International Red Cross - and the Israelis had only to glance through its pages to read that I spent three months in Jibchit during Israel's 1985 occupation, that as Middle East correspondent of The Independent I had met the Hizbollah leadership.

Indeed, I knew Abbas Moussawim, the Hizbollah chairman who was assassinated by an Israeli helicopter pilot who fired an air-to-ground missile into his car, killing him and his family as they drove back from southern Lebanon after visiting the village of Jibchit. Hizbollah leadership? Jibchit? What did those computerised questions really mean?

I still don't know. Nor did the prisoner who was asked them. He was questioned about other things - if there were spies in his village from the Lebanese Army, if the Hizbollah used mobile phones to explode bombs. Then he was taken to a courtyard, stripped, tied to a stake and had freezing water thrown over him. All night. Then he was locked in one of three rooms - the "black rooms', the inmates call them - with just enough space to squat with his knees to his face for day after day. It is routine in Khiam.

I met one inmate just 10 days after his release, a man who had spent more than a year in Khiam. "When they interrogated me, they hit me on the head, then on the back with a Kalashnikov rifle. I fell down. The man put his boot in my face and broke part of my jaw. I have lost the hearing in part of my right ear. The ear-drum is broken. He said, 'You are working with Hizbollah.' I said no. I run a café that sells beer. How could I be Hizbollah? Now I have bad breathing problems and the doctor says there is no medicine for it. That this problem will stay with me all my life."

It is all true. The Red Cross, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have all concluded that these stories are true. The case of Suleiman Ramadan, his arm amputated after beatings, still imprisoned after 16 years, is among the best known. What will these men, and a few women, receive by way of compensation? Nothing. Two hundred dollars a month from the Lebanese government but nothing from Israel. The American former hostage Terry Anderson has won millions of dollars in damages from Iran in the US courts for his false imprisonment for seven years. The prisoners of Khiam will, of course, get nothing.

Some of them are former Hizbollah guerrillas but many are held because their families refuse to join the SLA or work for Israeli intelligence or because brothers and sisters are believed to work for the guerrillas.

Another ex-inmate told me: "They said to me I would be tortured in Khiam and held there for years if I did not renounce my brother." He refused to make the denunciation. He was beaten insensible and kept in Khiam for more than a year.

Needless to say, the world does not call these men hostages - which they are in reality and also according to the Israeli courts. The world's press and television, anxious, no doubt, not to offend the Israelis, call them "bargaining chips", as if the tortured and the untried of Khiam are players in a large and amusing chess game. We never called the Western hostages in Lebanon "bargaining chips". Hostages is what they were. And hostages is what the last Khiam prisoners remain.

Will they come home when Israel ends its almost a quarter-century of occupation? Or will they be taken off across the border into Israel for further incarceration? When will Mr Ramadan, who has spent more than twice Anderson's time in captivity, at last be freed? Khiam is an old French Mandate fort with its walls still scarred by the tank fire of the Australian Division in the Second World War. It may have more shrapnel marks in the days to come.

But at least there will be no more questions about Uri Lubrani. Or Robert Fisk.


 




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