Warning: This article describes graphic methods of torture and may be unsuitable for some people.
The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism released a report on August 10, 2017 detailing the Islamic State (ISIS) prison system’s abduction, interrogation, and confession procedures as well as the physical and psychological torture taking place with ISIS jails. The report legitimizes the world’s belief that ISIS truly is Satan embodied on earth.
The torture methods used vary depending on the group operating the facility. Groups included the Islamic police, military police, hisbah (morality police), raid squads, and Emni (security forces). Typical methods, such as threat of execution, solitary confinement, beating, and flogging, are supplemented by seven elaborate torture methods named as follows: Lashing, the Fuel, Bisat al-Rih (Flying Carpet), Shabeh (Ghost), German Chair, the Biter, and the Tire.
More than 50 ISIS defectors and more than a dozen Syrian detainees were interviewed for the report. Their accounts provide a chilling portrayal of ISIS prison system’s torture methods. One 37-year-old man described how he was captured and imprisoned.
“On my way to Raqqa we were stopped by an ISIS fighter, around 20 meters before a roadblock. The driver got off the minibus. After talking to a masked ISIS fighter, he asked all of us to get out. We stood in line and gave our Syrian IDs to the ISIS fighter. He took them and walked back to the roadblock. There were five pickup trucks loaded with masked ISIS men. One of them looked at the IDs and then came with nine other fighters. They called everybody by name and gave them their IDs back; except me. They stared at everybody else and demanded they return to the bus. I didn’t say anything. One of them hit me with the back of his rifle on my lower jaw. After I got hit, I fell to the ground and I hunched. I looked toward the minibus. They all saw it but they were scared to say anything. One of them asked me to raise my head. After I did he kicked me on the chest with the sole of his shoe. I fell to the ground and right away covered my head. Two fighters started kicking me. I heard one of them saying not the face. One of the fighters ordered them to stop and pulled me up, inspected me, cuffed my arms, and blindfolded me. I did not say anything. I did not want to anger them.”
Upon capture and placement in an ISIS prison, the torture begins. Below are descriptions of the ISIS torture methods used with an accompanying eye-witness testimony from victims of the torturous abuse.
“They took me to a big room. They removed my blindfold. One of them pointed to a wall where chains were installed and demanded that I face the wall. They raised my arms and cuffed each of my arms to the dangling chains. I pleaded to them. I swore to them that I was not affiliated with the Free Syrian Army. They did not listen. One of them started lashing me with something; maybe a cable.”
Considered to be the least likely torture method. The Fuel involves pouring crude oil on a cuffed victim and demand that they confess or be lit on fire.
“The interrogator was seated on a chair. In front of him there was a concrete seat. They put a gun to my head and forced me to strip naked and then they cuffed me to the concrete seat. The interrogator was Tunisian. He shouted, ‘Confess that you are infidel.’ I did not say a thing. He suddenly became so mad and started prating something about a video and the Free Syrian Army. At some point, he showed me the video. It was of me with the Free Syrian Army. I thought if I say anything they would kill me. He brought a gallon jug and poured oil on me; from the chest, down. He said confess or I will burn you. I thought he was trying to scare me. I did not know that he would do it. Next thing I remember was waking up in a hospital.”
Bisat al-Rih (Flying Carpet)
The Flying Carpet consist of two hinged metal or wooden boards. The back of the victim’s upper body is tied to one half of the mechanism and the lower half tied to the bottom. Captors can then fold the board, bending the victim in a variety of positions. Ultimately the victim is bent so the feet and head are brought close to each other causing serious, even permanent, damage to the spine. While held in the bent position, victims are beaten or tormented with electric shocks.
“On it [Bisat al-Rih] my head was so close to my feet. They almost broke my back. It still hurts. I cannot get up quickly; I need to get myself seated slowly. When they put me on it, they beat me with a cable. Then, they started electrocuting me. They put water first. I do not know how many times they did it before I passed out.”
In the Ghost, another commonly used method, victims are handcuffed with their hands behind their backs. The captors then use the handcuffs to hang victims to handles, doorframes, or hooks to suspend the victim above the ground. They are often left in this position for days. Eventually the victim’s shoulder socket dislocates resulting in permanent damage to the brachial plexus.
“My hands were handcuffed behind my back. They hung the handcuffs to a rope that dangled from the ceiling and then pulled the other end of the rope. It was so painful it felt that my ribs shattered. I screamed. I was shocked once. It was more painful. They kept me in that position for one day… When I was there in that position they first beat me with a cane, on my chest and on my thighs. Then one of them took off my underwear and poured water on it. Before they did anything, I cried, ‘for Allah’s sake sheikh’. They looked at me begging them. One of them started getting the electric prod closer to me and said that he will neuter me. It was so painful that I lost consciousness right away.”
The German Chair
In this method, the victim is tied to a specially designed metal chair that allows quick, rapid movement backward. Captors then abruptly jerk the seat backward leading to severe pressure on the victim’s limbs which translates to acute stress to the victim’s spine.
“On the chair [the German chair] they tied my legs. There were two of them. One of them stood on my tied legs. I was facing the ground. The other forced two of the chair’s feet from under my armpits. He then handcuffed me. The man behind me pulled the chair; my legs were on the ground and torso up. My body was almost in a 90-degree angle. It was very painful I thought I would die on it. I thought there was nothing more painful. I thought they broke my back. I thought that was the most painful thing until another one pulled my cuffed arms. I thought they broke my back and at that moment I thought they were splitting my chest in two halves. After that they lifted me up with something that they hung the handcuffs on. My head was the closest part of my body to the ground. I felt the pressure on my shoulders; all of my weight was on my shoulders…”
“I was holding the sides of the tire with my hands while my head and legs were on the other side of the tire. I heard a Tunisian shouting my turn; it is time for Lakhdar Brahimi. He started to beat my legs and then he hit me on the soles of my feet.”
The Biter is a tool with pinching, iron jaws (like large tongs or pliers). Captors apply the metal jaws to the victim’s breast causing severe pain.
“We walked passed a group of women and men. The men shouted and ran towards me and the boy. They started to hit me with their canes. The hisbah. I hunched on the ground. I asked them what I did. One man said that when you wear a perfume it is like you have Zina [sex out of wedlock] with every male who smells you. I told that I do not smell. I remember the hand soap might have a scent. I told them the story. They did not want to listen. I was crying the whole time. The women of hisbah took me to jail… In the Hisbah jail they tied me to a chair and uncovered my chest. I cried and begged them to forgive me. One of them told me to shut up. She then looked at my breast and asked me what happened. I told her I had cancer. She told me that she will make the other side look the same. She asked me whether I heard of the biter. I just cried. When she bit me with it I screamed so that maybe all the people in Raqqa heard me.”