Reports of torture and deaths in Syria's prisons have been surfacing for years, but leader Bashar al-Assad has dismissed them as the exaggerations of opponents or as aberrations that occur in every country during a time of war. The New York Times, however, takes a deep dive into the issue—one based on photos, smuggled government memos, human rights reports, and interviews with survivors—and finds that the abuse is systemic and a big part of why Assad is close to victory after an eight-year revolt. One independent watchdog has a list of nearly 128,000 names of people who have never emerged from the Syrian prison system, and that's likely an undercount, writes Anne Barnard.
As for the abuse itself, the story recounts grim techniques. Prisoners are hanged from their wrists and beaten, stuffed into tires, raped, burned alive. "One survivor, who asked to be identified only as Khalil K. to protect family still in Syria, watched a teenager take 21 days to die after interrogators doused him with fuel and set him alight," writes Barnard. Prisoners also are ordered to beat and sometimes kill other inmates or forced to act out "more baroque" forms of torture such as mimicking animals for officers' dinner entertainment. And on and on. Living conditions are so deplorable that a UN panel equated the prison system to "extermination." Read the full story, which notes that imprisonment and accounts of torture are actually increasing in Syria as the revolt nears an end. (Read more Syria stories.)