In his first media interview since he fled his position as head of the intensive care unit in an Aleppo military hospital, the doctor gave a chilling eyewitness account of secret wards where he said patients were tortured or sent to their death.
“Important arrested patients, those that had more information to reveal, had to be healed. Those that were useless to them were sent to a secret ward that we nicknamed “the dark room” where they were tortured, eliminated or left to die.”
The doctor, who for security reasons can only be identified as Ahmed, worked in military hospitals in Aleppo, Deraa and the suburbs of Damascus each of which had these wards.
The patients were kept in “dire” conditions with their hands and feet handcuffed to the beds and their eyes blindfolded in windowless wards, often in a basement.
Deprived of antibiotics and painkillers, and often left to lie in their own faeces, many of the patients sported gaping infected wounds.
“They were left to slowly die, or immediately killed with a calcium injection. It makes the heart beat slow down until the body spasms,” said the doctor.
“In Aleppo I was treating a patient who had been beaten with a rod, I recognised the marks on his body. Twelve ribs were broken and his shoulder and legs. The Commander Major General Nazir al-Nomen came to me and said: ‘why haven’t you killed this patient until now?’”
The ward in Aleppo’s military hospital, a tree shrouded building in the centre of the complex, was off limits to most staff, with doctors requiring special permission from the head of the hospital or of the city’s military police.
Doctor Ahmed said he gained access to the room for the first time in February this year when he was asked to be part of a cover-up in the face of a visit by Arab League monitors.
A high ranking military man and the only anaesthetist in the hospital, the doctor said that he was ordered by his superiors to drug all the hospital’s prisoner patients to the point where they became unconscious, so that they would not bare witness to the observers.
“The hospital commander called me into his office where he sat with two generals. They said I was loyal and trustworthy and that I should help fight these attacks. ‘It is your turn now doctor’ they told me.”
Knowing that refusal would meant that he would imprisoned, and fearing reprisals on his family, Doctor Ahmed told The Daily Telegraph that he agreed.
“Of 200 patients we had 27 arrested men spread around the hospital, and 25 in the black room. I injected the 52 people with Ketamine so they would fall unconscious.
“Three Arab League observers came with 40 men from the Syrian security. The guards created confusion so that no one was interviewed and no photos were allowed.
“I remember writing that day to my wife telling her I was distraught at what I had had to do. I told her I had drugged 52 people.”
In an earlier incident, Doctor Ahmed recalled visiting a similar ward in a military hospital in Deraa where he said he witnessed security forces beating the wounded patents.
“There were forty men who had been wounded and arrested at popular demonstrations. I saw an officer beating a man who was chained to the bed, he had been shot and blood was pooling on the floor.”
He said it was too dangerous for doctors to intervene: “If any doctor even looked disturbed he would be sent immediately to the military detention centre in Damascus. There are many military doctors imprisoned there now.”