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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT KHIAM DETENTION CENTRE

What is the Khiam Detention Centre?

The Khiam Detention Centre is the main detention and interrogation establishment of the South Lebanese Army (SLA), Israel’s proxy militia in occupied South Lebanon. The Centre is located in a former French barrack built in the 1930s.

Who runs the Khiam Detention Centre?

For the past seven years, whenever they were confronted by human rights activists about their role in the day to day operations at Khiam, the Israeli authorities responded: “Khiam is situated in Lebanon, and is an autonomous detention facility maintained and controlled by the South Lebanese Army. Neither the Israeli Army or the Israeli Security Service conduct investigations at Khiam nor are they responsible for whatever occurs there. All complaints regarding inmates of Khiam should be addressed directly to the South Lebanese Army.” Then in a recent statement filed with the Supreme Court of Israel, the military authorities admitted they are directly involved in Khiam’s operations by training interrogators and providing financial support to the SLA.

How many people are detained at the Khiam Detention Centre?

As of October 6, 1999, roughly 150 people are known to be detained at Khiam.

Who is held there? Are there women? Children? Elderly people?

South Lebanese people of all ages and from all walks of life are held there. There are reportedly four women, including journalist Cosette Ibrahim and 71-year old Al-Abdeh Kassem Malkani. The longest-held female detainee at Khiam was Suha Beshara, who was held there for over 10 years and was released in September 1998. Some Khiam detainees were as young as 13 years old when taken there. Ali Tawbeh, who is currently held in Khiam, was only 14 was he was arrested in 1997 and sent to join his father. Some of the longest-held detainees in Khiam were teenagers when arrested. Another 15-year old boy, Ahmed Semhat, was arrested earlier this month. Altogether, 10 teenagers are believed to be held there. Other that Ms. Malkani, three detainees are over 60. Among them are 64-year old Ali Mohamad Ghanwi, who was arrested in 1996 and suffers from cardiac and stomach problems, and 60-year old Mohamad Salim Katbey, who was arrested in 1997 and suffers from heart attacks. He was apparently taken to the Marjayun military hospital and back to Khiam 15 times already. Arrests of several members of the same family are commonplace. There have also been several cases of husbands and wives arrested and sent to Khiam, the most recent of which is Hussein Ahmed Semhat, and his wife Najwa Hussein Semhat (Ahmed’s father and mother). They are detained in separate facilities. When one member of the family or couple is released, it is standard practice to keep the other(s) in detention, as in Ms. Malkani’s case.

What are some of the reasons why people are held there?

None of the Khiam detainees faces charges. Therefore the official reasons for their arrest remain unknown. Most are believed to be held for refusing to co-operate with the SLA. Under the Fourth Geneva Convention, they have that right. It is illegal to detain them for that reason. Therefore, their arrest can be considered as arbitrary. Others are believed to have been arrested for carrying a cellular phone. The SLA interprets this as a way to communicate information to Hezbollah and consequently arrests cell phone users for “co-operating with the enemy” or “passing information to the Lebanese army”. Various other reasons have been suggested for the arrests. One of them is refusing to organise study trips to Israel for South Lebanese children. As a result, a sizeable number of teachers and school principals are held in Khiam.

In what conditions are they arrested and detained?

Amnesty International has interviewed released detainees, who invariably described torture and reported ill treatment. The torture methods reportedly included electric shocks; suspension from poles, usually with only the toes touching the ground; beating, sometimes after the body is doused in water; and threats of rape of their wives and female relatives. For the first period of their detention, for between 10 days and two months, they were usually held in solitary confinement in a cell 90 cm by 90 cm in which it was impossible to stand or lie, and to sleep detainees had to sit with their feet on the wall. After this, detainees were usually held six to a cell measuring 2.5 m by 2.5 m. They were allowed outside for 15 minutes every one or two weeks. At least eleven Khiam detainees have died because of torture or lack of medical treatment. Many of those released suffer from severe psychological and health problems. The SLA and Israel often suspend visits and contacts from the Red Cross and relatives. No access to lawyers or independent medical care is allowed.

Here is one compelling testimony: I had bought books for the school year that was set to begin. That same night, I was awakened by a loud voice. It was my father shouting, ‘There is no one in this room.’ The Israelis did not allow me to change my night garment. They took me away and I spent the first night in a room full of mice. In the morning, I was taken to Khiam. I was ordered to stand near a wall until late at night. Then I was taken to a room where a man started questioning me. I told him I was a student. So he asked me, ‘Do you know what this is?’ I tried to touch it since I was blindfolded. It was a scourge made with electric wire. He ordered me to kneel down and started whipping my back and bare feet for three hours until I fell helplessly to the floor. After dragging me and tying me to a post, he threw cold and hot water on my naked body. I was then put in solitary confinement with no access to the sun for a week. During the second torture session, the interrogators wrapped metallic wire between my fingers, ordered me to kneel down and spilled water on my body. As I felt the electric current flowing to my blood, my whole body started shaking uncontrollably. They then put the electric wire on my genitals and between my teeth. Each day carried a new form of torture. The interrogator whose weight was over 100 kilograms walked on my back. He hit me on the head with a rough stick once so hard that I lost part of my sight. Whenever I asked for a doctor, the answer was "We have no doctors here." I threatened them to go on a hunger strike. So, an Israeli doctor examined my eyes and said there was no treatment for them. He added that he would give me a walking stick because he said I was going to lose my sight shortly. I tried to go back to school after my release but I was unable to read or see what was written on the board. I couldn’t continue my education. Kamil Daher, detained from October 1989 to December 1991 Many more testimonies can be found on Internet, notably at www.followupcsld-ip.org.lb .

For AI information on Khiam, visit also the following site: www.khiam.dircon.co.uk.