screams of the prisoners being tortured could be heard from
the UN post
Khiam wasn't entirely isolated from the outside world.
From the prison yard you can see the blue flag of the United
Nations snapping in the Mediterranean breeze.
There was a UN post within sight and hearing of Khiam throughout
its time as a detention and interrogation centre.
But they did nothing - "the UN contingent here are
supposed to be observing Lebanon's border with Israel, it's
not part of the mandate to act on whatever may or may not
have seen or heard beyond the prison walls."
Of A Prison Guard
Tanios Nahra was a guard at Khiam from 1985 until 1987
- years which saw some of the worst excesses.
Nahra, Khiam Prison Guard
"There was this old field telephone they used to
wind manually, the wires were tied to the detainee's fingers
and could produce as much power as your mains at home.
If you crank it quickly the detainee might lose consciousness
so it's better to crank it slowly - that way the detainee
Do you remember seeing Israeli officers present while electric
shock treatment was being administered or while people were
on the pole?
"They weren't just present; they themselves hung
people on the pole and electrocuted them. The Lebanese
interrogators imitated the Israelis because they were
in charge. The Israelis were present less often but as
for torture they were even worse."
Of A Nurse
When prisoners did get medical attention, they were brought
to the Israeli run Marjayoun Hospital.
Hospital where tortured prisoners were sometimes brought
None of the staff would talk openly about what they saw
when prisoners were brought in. One nurse did agree to speak
if her identy was concealed.
"They were brought here with bags on their heads,
even if they had asthma. They would be dragged in here
hooded and handcuffed. The guard would torture them. When
prisoners rang he would verbally abuse them and beat them.
Then he'd lock the door and wouldn't let anyone come in.
The guard sometimes used to stub his cigarettes out on
The medical files at Marjayoun Hospital provide one of
the very few sources of written evidence about what happened
at Khiam prison. The prisoners are listed not by their family
names but by their prison numbers and these paint a pretty
grim picture of the condition some of them were in when
they were brought here. The diagnoses include trauma to
the head, broken limbs, injured testicles, several miscarriages,
gunshot wounds and one patient is recorded as having multiple
In The Cells
Six prisoners would be held in dark cells little more than
six feet square. They went weeks without washing and were
allowed into light for exercise only once a month.
were only allowed into the light once a month
Hunger strikes about conditions were commonplace.
A spell in solitary was often the punishment.
These punishment cells were just concrete boxes less than
a metre wide apart from a tiny ventilation shaft at the
top. They had no toilets and only a few were big enough
to lie down in. It wasn't just hours or days that prisoners
spent in these, many of them were there for weeks even months
in solitary and one detainee said he did a seven month stretch.
How to survive when locked up for years in solitary confinement
between the four walls of a 1m 80 by 80 cell; or when six
people have to share a 2.25 by 2.25 m room.
Deprived of the most basic necessities, the prisoners recreated
them, picking up secretly and hiding bits of string, wood
and stone, cheese wrappers, olive stones, garbage. That
is how they contrived to produce secretly a neele, a pencil,
strings of prayer beads made of olive stones...
secretly produced works of art from garbage
beads from olive stones ... a comb from drift wood
The prisoners used their walls as canvases for expressing
themselves. In the women's section there is a drawing of
a fish with a heart attached to it and a painting of six
white horses running over a darkened field. There was a
picture of Father Christmas taken from a chocolate wrapper.
born 3/9/79, arrested 7/5/99, released 3/1/2000."
There were the names of Rana Awada and Ismahan Ali Khalil,
only 19 when she was dragged to this awful place by the
"How many drops of blood have been spilt on our
soil and have not flowered?"
she wrote on the wall, along with two words.
In the mens section, Abu Ahlan had written on his wall:
"Lebanon is ours and for our children after us."
Teacher Tortured To Death
Nowhere, it seems, was beyond Khiam's reach. This head
teacher of a school was picked up in 1986.
Head TeacherAbdullah Hamzi, father of three children,
was tortured to death at Khiam prison
Abdullah Hamzi had made no secret of his opposition to
the Israeli occupation. But his family insist he wasn't
part of the guerrilla campaign against Israel.
He left a wife and three children behind when he was taken
away by Israeli soldiers one February dawn. They had no
idea what became of him once he'd gone.
"We went crazy, we lost our minds. We used to ask
and ask and ask and make enquiries; 'do you know where
they've taken him?' We couldn't find him. Some said they'd
killed him, others said he was still here, some said he
was taken to Israel. Some said they'd put him in a cell
Hamzi, widow of murdered teacher Abdullah Hamzi
What Feyrouz and her children didn't know is that she was
already a widow, they were already orphans. Abdullah Hamzi
was killed within three weeks of arriving in Khiam.
The events of that night unfolded in earshot of Ryadh Kalekesh's
cell. He recalls:
"He kept shouting; 'there are no charges against
me, this is unjust and unfair'. He banged on the door
demanding to be released. Then the guards took him out,
handcuffed him, hung him on the pole and beat him. When
he died at their hands the guards started blaming each
other for the death of Abdullah Hamzi."
For three and a half years, oblivious of the truth, Feyrouz
walked the thirty miles to Khiam carrying clothes and food
to the husband she believed was being held there.
three and a half years Feyrous walked the 30 miles to bring
and cloths for her husband who, unknown to her, was already
She eventually learnt what had happened from detainees
who were released.
But even now this family's Khiam story isn't quite over.
"We want his body so we can bury him. We want to
know where he is. We'll never give up our fight to bring
him back. This is what we're demanding, even if it costs
us our lives, we want his body back."
Abdullah Hamzi died in the spring of 1986.
In 1989 two prisoners were killed during a protest - the
guards threw tear gas into their windowless cells.
Another three are believed to have lost their lives as
a result of torture. Two prisoners simply disappeared and
altogether at least fourteen people are believed to have
died in this detention centre or not long after leaving
it. The full toll isn't known for certain.
Defeated By Hizbullah
The final act unravelled faster than anyone could have
anticipated. In May 2000 Israeli troops scrambled out of
southern Lebanon with Hezbollah forces hard on their heels.
Army, defeated and humiliated by Hizbullah,
scramble out of Lebanon in the cover of darkness
Twenty-two years of occupation were over. Hezbollah and
their allies were victorious. Without Israeli support the
SLA simply melted away.
Crowds enter Khiam Prison and freed the prisoners
first sight of freedom:
Cries of 'Allah O Akbar' - God is Greater
being freed as the prison echos of 'Allah O Akbar'
but its not over
One of those freed that final day was Ryadh Kalekesh:
"My mind was racing. A thousand thoughts went through
my mind. I felt fear and euphoria at the same time. I
wanted to find the girl who'd been faithful to me and
was waiting for me."
As towns and villages all over southern Lebanon welcomed
home their local heroes, Ryadh Kalekesh had something more
He and Nada fell in love as teenagers. They got engaged
just before his detention and she waited for him throughout
those fourteen years and four months.
"Everyone was greeting him but I wasn't there. He
was looking for me. When we finally found each other I
fainted. I woke up to hear him saying; 'it's me, Ryadh,
I'm here, wake up'. I looked at him and my tears started
running. He hugged me and put me in the car. This was
our meeting, it was a strange feeling."
engaged to Ryadh waited for 14 years while he was imprisoned
But the years Ryadh Kalekesh spent in Khiam have left their
mark. The electric shock torture did long term damage -
he's had six operations on his genitals over the past five
His doctor says almost all the long term detainees from
Khiam he's examined have eye problems because of the conditions
they were kept in.
Ali Kashmar suffers frequent panic attacks. His mother
says he desperately needs help he's not getting.
Kashmar still suffers frequent panic attacks, his mother
Ali Kashmar's mother confides:
"He feels anxiety. He asks me to sit by his side
and says; 'I feel a pressure in my body that wants to
escape'. He remains like that all day. Sometimes he spends
three or four days or even a week asleep. He does nothing
but eat, go to the toilet and sleep. He slips into a state
Khiam is now a place of pilgrimage. At weekends hundreds
of people crowd through the buildings.
of Khiam Prison after liberation
Their guides, who saw so much suffering here,
There are those who believe that for the sake of reconciliation
Khiam's story should be allowed to slip quietly into history,
especially at this sensitive moment in Middle East politics.
But there are also those for whom forgetting is not an
Ali Kashmar is still a prisoner of his memories. Ali is
asked: When you stand here and look at the prison what goes
through your mind?
Ali Kashmar cannot reply, he shakes his head and walks
So what has become of those who are guilty of this crime?
The people of Israel have elected him, Sharon who led the
brutal invasion of Lebanon and is responsible for these
war crimes, as their Prime Minister. His lackeys the SLA
torturers who escaped Lebanon, today enjoy holiday apartments
with Mediterranean views as guests of the state of Israel.