Branch 215 Gargamel
Enab Baladi – Issue # 76 – Sunday August 04, 2013
An average height male in his late fifties, bald, pop-eyed and potbellied, he is the officer assigned to strip-search female detainees before moving them to cells in Branch 215, the central branch of the Military Intelligence of the Syrian Mukhabarat located in Damascus. Due to the inhumane treatment of prisoners during the process of searching conducted by this officer in particular, undergoing the search operation has become even a much worse experience than going through the actual process of investigation which violates both international humanitarian law and international human rights law in Syria’s underground detentions.
Zina, previously a detainee at Branch 215, said that she was brought to the search room; the officer followed her locking the door behind him, which freaked her out. When he asked her to take off her clothes, she took off only her jacket; thus, he looked at her tauntingly saying “all of them”. Zina was shocked and shouted “impossible”. The officer became irritated and attacked her using force to undress her; she let out a scream for help, gripped his hand and bit it. The officer paused and fell back on his chair panting of pain then called on two other officers to help him undress her claiming she might be hiding something on her body and thus she should be searched thoroughly. During the so-called search procedures, the officer touched her breasts and other parts of her body in an abusing manner. Zina was devastated by the harrowing experience; she lived in a state of shock and depression for over a month. Her pains were further aggravated by the voices of other women going through what she had been through. Male detainees could not bear the situation either; they used to bang on the doors furiously whenever they heard the women screaming. Consequently, guards would break into their cells and start beating them severely.
The process of searching detainees in Branch 215 exceeds the standards of a security measure, as claimed. The responsible officer repeatedly criticized the detainees’ bodies and made offensive remarks about their shape and appearance. Reem, also has been through Zina’s experience; when she was asked to take off her clothes she did as she was terrified. When the strip-search was over, the officer kept her standing naked for five minutes only to insult her further.
Another detainee said that it took her more than 20 days to recover the dreadful shock she had received during the search process; she was very embarrassed and was unable to communicate with other detainees in the cell. “The Revolution has been an armed one for quite a while; why doesn’t the Free Syrian Army target people as this officer? Getting rid of him is much more crucial than targeting a checkpoint or liberating a city!” said she.
Stories about the frequent occurrence of sexual groping, prolonged nudity and other forms of sexual harassment and abuse were widely circulated among prisoners. Some female detainees determined to report the serious violations committed by the responsible officer to the Head of the Branch who made little of the matter. “He suffers from several psychological disorders; he is a psycho and you should take his conditions into consideration”, Head of the Branch replied in cold blood, “besides, there is no cause for worry; he is impotent and cannot rape you!”
“Gargamel”, the villain of the village and the sworn enemy of its peaceful inhabitants, is the nickname given to this officer by detainees, and used even by guards and other officers working in Branch 215. Branch 215 Gargamel is only one of many Gergamels who abuse power right under the eye of the regime and with its blessing.