SYRIAN security officers hung Student Muhammad Ghahbbash from his wrist for hours, beat him bloody, shocked him with electricity and stuck a gun in his mouth.

Mr. Ghabbash, a law student from Aleppo, reportedly confessed his actual offense : organizing  peaceful antigovernment protests. But the torture continued for 12 days, until he wrote a fictional  confession to planning a bombing.

That, he said was just the beginning.

He was flown to a crammed prison at Mezze air base in Damascus, the Syrian capital, where he said guards hung him and other detainees from a fence naked, spraying them with water on cold nights.

To entertain colleagues over dinner, he and other survivors said, an officer calling himself Hitler  forced prisoners to act the role of dogs, donkeys and cats, beating those who failed to bark or bray correctly.

In a military hospital, he said, he watched a nurse bash the face of an amputee who begged for painkillers.

In yet another prison, he counted 19 cellmates who died from disease, torture and neglect in a single month.

''I was among the lucky,'' said Mr. Ghabbash, 31, who survived 19 months in detention until a judge was bribed to free him.

As Syrian president, Bashar aI-Assad, closes in on victory over an eight-year revolt, a secret,  industrial-scale system of arbitrary arrests and torture prisons has been pivotal to his success.

While the Syrian military, backed by Russia and Iran, fought armed rebels for territory, the government waged a ruthless war on civilians, throwing hundreds of thousands into filthy dungeons where thousands were tortured and killed.

Nearly 128,000 have never emerged, and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody, according to the Syrian Network of Human Rights, an independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally.

Nearly 14,000 were ''killed under torture''. Many prisoners die from conditions so dire that a United Nations investigation labelled the process ''extermination''.

The World Students Society thanks author Anne Barnard.


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