“Because We Are Doctors”: How Syrian Health Workers Became a Target for Arrest and Torture

INTERVIEWER: Are you good. Yeah. I was working in the
governmental hospital. It was like 10:00
AM in the morning. I had just finished treating
a patient who broke his arm. The assistant of our hospital
director came to me and said, the director wants to
see you in his office. When I entered the office, I
found seven to eight people. I know that they are from
the intelligence department. You have to come with us. RAYAN KOTEICHE: Early on
in the conflict in Syria it became very obvious that
medical personnel became a target. Physicians, nurses,
paramedics, first responders, lab technicians. When facilities
were set up to treat injured civilians,
injured protesters, even injured combatants,
medical personnel became themselves a
target for attacks with constant fear of arrest and
detention, potentially torture. YOUSSEF: They arrested me. They put me in a cell room,
1 meter by 1 and 1/2 meter. I stayed in this cell
room for 69 days. I was tortured every day for
one month, big doses of torture. They start hitting me
everywhere, everywhere on my body. All kinds of cables. There is the thin one,
there is the thick one, there is the four thin
cables tied together. They called it the
“quadra cable.” Some guards, they are increasing
the dosage of that torturing because we are doctors. They told us that we have been
arrested with our families, so we were hearing the voices of
women while they were tortured, maybe my mother or my sister. It’s worse than the
torturing on us itself. Yeah this was very bad. Please come in. I am part of a PHR
research team interviewing Syrian health professionals who
had been detained and tortured. YOUSSEF: They were
hitting me by cable– MICHELE HEISLER: PHR
focuses on documenting. YOUSSEF: Sometimes by their
hands or by their legs. MICHELE HEISLER: And
what we’re seeing is that people who have
been tortured often have symptoms of
depression, detachment, sense of hopelessness,
shame, severe nightmares, feelings of
worthlessness, and guilt. YOUSSEF: Actually I’m
feeling guilty every day because the people inside
Syria they are suffering. RAYAN KOTEICHE: In
PHR’s assessment, these attacks, these repeated
attacks on health care are war crimes. And given their systematic
and widespread aspect, they rise to the level of
crimes against humanity. And these violations should
continue to be investigated and their perpetrators
should be held accountable. All those health
workers in Syria that are really heroes, so
I have hope in the future.

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