Mazen al-Hamada’s name soon appeared on an arrest list in Deir Ezzor. Two of his brothers were also wanted, as was one of his brothers-in-law. One day in March, 2012, a doctor asked Hamada if he would smuggle baby formula to a woman in Darayya, a rebellious suburb of Damascus. He and his nephews gathered fifty-five packages of formula, hid them under their clothes, and travelled to meet her at a café. As soon as Hamada handed over the bags, security agents handcuffed him and his nephews, pulled their shirts over their heads, and shoved them into an S.U.V. “I had no idea where we were going,” Hamada said. “The whole way, they were telling us, ‘We’re going to execute you.’
After they were stripped to their underwear, beaten, and thrown in a holding cell, about twelve feet square, with some forty other detainees, they learned that they were in the Air Force-intelligence branch at al-Mezzeh Military Airport, one of the most notorious detention facilities in the country.
Two weeks later, the prisoners were put in a small hangar, a little more than forty feet long and twenty feet wide. A hundred and seventy people were packed inside, their arms wrapped around their legs, chins on their knees. “You’re rotting,” Hamada told me. “There’s no air, there’s no sunlight. Your nails are really long, because you can’t cut them. So when you scratch yourself you tear your skin off.” The prisoners weren’t able to wash themselves or to change their underwear. The sores of scabies and other skin ailments covered their bodies. Throughout the country, detainees routinely drank water out of toilets and died from starvation, suffocation, and disease. “People went crazy,” Hamada said. “People would lose their memories, people would lose their minds.” Eventually, he was transferred to a solitary-confinement cell, which he shared with ten people.
It'll take you a little bit to read this piece, but it is extraordinary reporting about a harrowing, important story. This is why I always chuckle when politicians reduce conflicts to: oh, we just need to go in there and bomb the hell out of them! This is just one story in how many millions of the stories that can be told about the crisis in Syria, just one country.