Koblenz Trial 09.09.2021, Red Crescent Hospital doctor: The youngest detainee I treated was a child under fifteen with a bruise on his head and the oldest eighty years old.

Written By Luna Watfa
Translated to English by Diane Lockyer

A report on 9/9/21 at Anwar Raslan’s hearing: The witness, a doctor at the Red Crescent Hospital, saw the effects of beatings on detainees’ faces, bruises, open wounds, visible bones, fractures and infections.

As previously mentioned in the first part of the hearing on 09.09.2021, a Syrian witness entered through the door designated for witnesses, disguised with a beard, wig, black sunglasses and a medical face mask that he wore all the time.

The witness’s lawyer stated he would not give any personal information regarding his client because of his fear for his family members in Syria. Accordingly, the witness’s name and face remained unknown.

The only information the witness accepted to share in court was his profession as a doctor who worked in the Red Crescent Hospital near the al-Khatib Branch. He told the judges his story with the al-Khatib Branch began when they began calling on doctors from the Red Crescent Hospital in April 2011 to examine the detainees in the Branch. At first, five to six doctors would go there with nurses who had no choice and could not refuse under any circumstances.

In the al-Khatib Branch, the medical staff had to hand over their mobile phones at the main door and then go down to the basement where the cells were located in the Branch. Approximately 30 or 40 detainees would be summoned to an indoor yard for treatment where each one clearly bore signs of torture. Doctors were not allowed to talk to them except when necessary and they were not allowed to ask questions. If there were cases of wounds, they could simply apply bandages except in some cases that required hospital treatment or surgical intervention in which case the doctors would write it down on a note. The detainee might then be transferred to the hospital, or might not, in the sense that the decision was not up to the doctors whatever the severity of the situation but rather the al-Khatib Branch.

The witness confirmed he had worked there for the first two years of the revolution during 2011 and 2012 when the detainees seemed to be in a somewhat good condition at first. However, their long stays in such circumstances inevitably worsened their personal situation. There was no natural lighting as the sun never entered the basement but rather a number of light bulbs although they were not strong enough. The detainees were forced to sleep one on top of each other because of the overcrowding and the smell was putrid especially in the summer when it smelt more like excrement.

As for the effects of torture on the detainees, the witness doctor said he had never seen a single detainee who did not have a wound while new wounds could easily be identified from the signs of bleeding. He could also see traces of beatings on the detainees’ faces and bruises as well as open wounds, visible bones, fractures and infections. The latter were the result of the lack of treatment over a long period.

When prescribing certain medications in some cases, doctors could never be sure whether the detainees had received them or not.

The witness did not know why some of the detainees received health care whereas others, in this case the majority, did not.

When difficult cases were treated and prescribed medication he confirmed there was no follow-up for them and it was believed most of them died.

When a detainee had a very high fever he was most likely suffering from an important infection and yet the prison administration would refuse to transfer him to the hospital. Due to his experience as a doctor, he believed the person would probably not survive.

When asked if he had seen elderly people inside the branch, he replied that some of them were up to seventy years old and were not receiving the necessary medication he considered they needed. He added that the oldest person he had personally treated was eighty years old.

He was then asked about seeing children and he spoke of a child he had seen who was not even fifteen who had a bruise on his head. He informed the branch the child needed an X-ray or an MRI, but he did not know if his instructions had been followed through or not. As for his treatment of the women from the Al-Khatib Branch, the witness said that he treated them in the hospital after they had been transferred from the Branch, but not within the Branch itself.

The witness doctor divided the periods over which the detainees were treated as follows: the first was during the first five or six months of the revolution when demonstrations were almost exclusively on Fridays when detainees were newly arrested and their wounds also recent. In the second stage, the number of new detainees decreased and detainees in the Branch began showing signs of worsening health conditions due to the lengthier periods spent in unhealthy conditions. Their capacity to move around was reduced, they had no clothes and their wounds were old.  

As for the bodies, the doctor said that he had not seen any in the al-Khatib Branch, although once, around mid 2012, a vehicle arrived from al-Khatib Branch with about three bodies inside, and it was his responsibility to confirm their deaths. He described the bodies:

“They were very thin, in very poor physical condition with cuts, bruises and swellings as a result of torture. The smell was unpleasant and were wearing only underwear.”

The witness was asked whether he was also responsible for writing the report for their deaths and he had only to confirm whether they were actually dead or not and was not even required to specify the direct cause of death.

When asked about the number of cases they had treated in 2011 and 2012, he replied it was in the hundreds, perhaps in the thousands, but he could not be certain of the number.

He could confirm all cases treated were from Al-Khatib Branch because each security branch controlled the hospital nearest to it, and in Al-Khatib’s case, it was the Red Crescent Hospital in order to remove the bodies from the Branch.

As for the treatment of detained patients who were transferred to the hospital, the doctor said they were placed in special rooms where they did not mix with ordinary patients.

 Detained patients were tied to the beds by their hands or feet. They were ill-treated and received constant insults from the security personnel who stayed with them all the time they were in the hospital. There were no files or real information such as names and ages.

The Public Prosecution Authority asked the witness if he knew the person who was in charge of the Khatib Branch at the time. He replied it was Anwar Raslan and admitted he did not know him personally but his name was known to them.

At the end of the session, the civil plaintiff who had testified in court earlier submitted a question to the witness doctor about cases he might have seen of detainees who had suffered mental disorders inside the detention center, or any other similar psychological cases. The witness replied he had not seen any cases but could confirm that all the detainees were in a very bad psychological state and were inevitably depressed and frustrated and did not know what fate awaited them.

The plaintiff who had previously worked in the field of mental health, from an earlier hearing that day requested, through his lawyer, to speak and provide two clarifications to the court – one would be read in person by the plaintiff and the other by his lawyer.He began:

“In Syria and under the Assad regime, detention means two things: enforced disappearance and torture. No one knows where the detainee is held except in rare cases when the arrest follows a summoning to the Branch and the detainee never returns after that.”

In order to confirm his idea, the witness presented his personal case as an example when his family could not find out where he was, and also when the regime kidnapped a person who had come to enquire about a detainee as well. He explained to the court how serious a matter it was asking about a detainee citing the example of the detainee Rasha Sharbaji, well known to the Syrians.

Then he ended his explanation by saying:  

“The Syrian regime uses enforced disappearance to finance its elements. Many parents pay a lot of money and all they get is a single item of information about their children.”

Subsequently, the same plaintiff’s attorney provided a clarification regarding the question of enforced disappearance, and approved the request submitted by attorneys Patrick Crocker and Sebastian Shermer to add this charge to the indictment against the accused, Anwar Raslan.

At the end of the session, the accused’s defense team submitted three new requests to summon new witnesses. The first was a member of the Syrian opposition and a former Syrian intelligence detainee. The defense team explained this witness would talk about the case of the detainee, Nouran Al-Ghamyan, and the circumstances of her arrest.

The second request was to summon another witness who worked as a journalist and a former detainee whose release was also facilitated by the accused Raslan himself and they had personally met – the accused and the witness – in Gaziantep in 2013.

As for the last request, it was to summon a third witness who had worked with the Syrian intelligence previously and had been arrested by them.

A Red Crescent Hospital woman doctor’s testimony about Al-Khatib detainees

During the November 18 2021 session, a Criminal Police investigator came to talk to the Koblenz Court about their interrogation of a witness whose name was not revealed because she wished to ensure the safety of her family members in Syria.

The police investigator said that the witness worked as a doctor in the Red Crescent Hospital near Al-Khatib branch from the beginning of 2011 until mid-2012. During this period, she personally witnessed between 15 and 20 detainees who were transferred to the hospital, including a woman in her twenties.

All the detainees she saw showed signs of torture, starvation and bruises on their bodies. When they arrived in the hospital, they were accompanied by security forces and their wrists showed signs of restrictions that may have been placed on them previously.

The witness did not see any bodies personally but she had heard about the matter and about the transfer of bodies from al-Khatib to the Red Crescent hospital. The most common cause of their death was kidney failure and she believed it occurred because of the delay in their treatment, or the failure to give them medicine.

After mid-2012, it was no longer possible to bring patients to the hospital because a team of doctors was sent periodically to the Al-Khatib Branch.