It's been a while since I've been able to sleep at night recently, and the reason is not that hard to discover. In my recent work trying (and failing miserably) to keep up with the issues that need to be documented I've come across a problem I hadn't anticipated. I simply didn't realise how much seeing these victims and talking to them would affect me.
I pride myself on being quite an objective, rational person. I'm someone who is quite handy when disaster strikes, as I'll immediately start dealing with the most important things first. I often say I'm the kind of person you want at a funeral, since I have a very strong tendency not to fall apart or cry till long after the disaster is over.
I didn't break down seeing the horrific casualties that were rolled into Salmaniya medical hospital after the pearl roundabout was stormed. I've gone back and watched videos of the violence, in a kind of macarbe way thinking that I owed it to to the people who died to watch their last moments all the way through. One graphic video showed a man with most of the skin of his scalp hanging off his head. I remember that one because I held his hand as he died. Yes, I remember that one.
But recent interviews with people just let out of jail have really shaken me to the core. Of course I knew in theory exactly what they did to them, the whole of Bahrain knows. And if you don't know, then you really must have blinkers on. It's been going on for decades, admittedly targeting the village population, since everyone knows the poor are easily disposable. If not villagers, then they targeted secular academics who quite liked this whole democracy idea. One who shall remain nameless and survived said that if you were like him, nothing they can do can break you. I object to him saying this, as it makes people sound weaker than I think they are. I doubt I could last half an hour. He thought about it for a while and said the hardest part was when they brought his Mother and Father in to watch. "yes", he admitted "that was hard".
So how have techniques changed since the bad old days of the 70s and the 90s? Not so much. The British Henderson long infamous as the "barbarian of Bahrain" is no longer in charge, but his legacy remains. Falaqua, say the word to any Bahraini and a shiver of fear runs through them. The process of tying peoples hands up and binding their feet together so they form a shrimp shape and are hung from a meat hook on the ceiling is the go-to method. Beating with hoses on the soles of the feet and the palms of their hands. It's less likely to leave scars, you see. The blood tends to congeal in these parts after a few hours and can kill you, so they then make them run on a cold tiled floor. Jogging on the spot for hours to get the blood flowing again. If you can't run or even stand then they'll bring in ice and treat you. Till the next day.
Of course verbal harrasment and abuse is par for the course. Prisoners are made to spit, walk on and even urinate on revered religious leaders. I'm having trouble explaining to a Western audience how shattering that is mentally to a devout muslim. I think only a really devout Catholic might understand.
Drowning in tubs of water, face down, not back like in the contravertial waterboarding, and electrical shocks are also prevalent. There is also the small question of what happened to the patients being treated at the main hospital the day martial law was declared in Bahrian. It can be taken for granted that anyone who was still a patient on that day and didn't run was incapable of moving. I do know from whispered phone calls made when hiding in cupboards on that day that they brought police dogs in to menace the patients, beat them viciously and leaned their guns on their wounds, reopening the stitches. They were then all moved to the sixth floor and that's when the information blackout started. No one in or out. Doctors and nurses were not allowed up there and were banned from treating people. They were taken from there to unknown locations.
Sometimes it didn't matter if you had obvious shot injuries at all. They beat patients who have sickle cell anemia, a genetic condition that can leave it's sufferers in extreme pain. they wanted to see if the patient was faking it and if he could walk. He certainly couldn't after they had finished it.
The small shot pellets they used, known here as "shozun" or bird pellet shots cause a really significant amount of damage for something so tiny. Each shot releases hundreds of pellets and there is considerable evidence that they aim for the face. We have quite a large amount of people who are still walking around with pellents in their eyes. Are they going to lose their eyesight? Yes, because we can't get them treated. The eye department at the main hospital is run by a terrible, terrible person.
Sexual threats are also widely used. We can find no evidence that they have raped or assaulted any of the women prisoners, but they certainly threatened them with it. Very, very respectable women were made to dance for their entertainment and sing songs. One told me that because she knew they were coming, she took the precation of learning the national anthem by heart. It was a solid move, they were made to sing it over and over again till they lost their voices, and were beaten again.
The fact that when interviewed by me, men admitted to the fact that they had been sexually violated was very hard to take. In a normal course of events, nothing could be more devastating to an Arab man to admit that these things happened. They apologised for having to be graphic and spent some time trying to desribe the acts to me without using foul language or saying anything that they felt was too overtly sexual. This was for my benefit, as they were brought up that speaking to a woman about anything like this is distrespectful.
A little old man, who ran a small conveneince store. They hung him, assualted him, left him in soiled clothes for months and forced him to clean up urine and excrement with his bare hands. The scars he has were so livid that I wondered how he was still alive. Another man muttered to me that a doctor had told the police that even another day in prison would have killed him, so he was let out. The authorites don't want anyone else dying in custody, it has proved embarassing to them in the past. The sweet old man has had to have a large chunk of his thigh muscle surgically removed. It became infected and gangrenous from wearing soiled clothes for so many months. They are all suffering from dislocated shoulders of varying degrees from being hung from the ceiling for so long. They refuse to get treatment, they say they can't trust the doctors anymore now that most of the doctors who would treat the injured are in jail themselves.
There is more but even having written only this much has upset me. I question what help I am in easing their suffering, and feel useless when people phone up hopefully asking if there is any good news about a family member or a change of heart about an academic expulsion or a job dismisal. We need relief and fast. I'm terrified about what will happen when the Bahrain Independent Commision of Inquiry leaves the country, and what will happen about a critical letter the Minister for Justice just wrote to the most revered Shiah cleric in Bahrain. I think they are trying to force the protesters into getting violent so they can crush them with impunity. And with things the way they are. How long will that take?