The view as we drove down the Lebanese coast in a topless jeep on our way south to spend the day in Tyre was amazing. The green tops of the native banana trees stood out against the sapphire sea. After about an hour and a half we reached a checkpoint where the Lebanese soldiers singled out our jeep for inspection. I nervously dug out my press pass, berating myself for not having brought my passport. Without a second glance they handed it back to me; they were more concerned with my Syrian friend Toni and the paper he didn’t have – the one showing how he had entered the country.
The soldiers took him aside, and despite showing his American University of Beirut ID card, they took him inside a little hut, confiscated his cell phone, and told us to move the car. Sima, a friend of Toni’s from AUB, and I waited at a gas station down the road while the guys dealt with this momentary impasse. Momentary, that is, until Toni started to get aggressive and tell the soldier that he didn’t have the right to hold him, etc. The last thing a Lebanese soldier wants is for a Syrian to tell him what he can and cannot do.
The four other guys immediately stuck their cell phones to their ears as they attempted to get hold of someone who could make a call on Toni’s behalf – a parliament member, Syrian intelligence official, high ranking Lebanese military officer… By the time a call went through to the checkpoint station the guard gleefully told us that Toni had been taken to jail and we could pick him up there.
We drove up to the military prison where the guys hopped out to talk to the officers while Sima and I waited in the jeep.
“The thing about Lebanese jail,” Hadim told me, “is that if you ask the guards where he is they won’t tell you, but if we tell them we are bringing his identity papers they will tell us where he is.”
From behind the stone walls and barbed wire came the most horrifying groans of anguish and screams of pain as some man unfortunate enough to be in a Lebanese prison was surely being tortured. Chills zinged down my back as I tried to ignore the agonizing yelps. Where is Amnesty International when you need it?
(Of course they’re not in Guantanamo either).
As the guys negotiated with the guards a call came through on Toni’s cell. I answered it, and asked if I could take a message as Sima motioned for me not to say anything to the person on the line.
“It’s me- Toni! I’m on the side of the road- come get me!”
A call from a member of parliament had come through and the guard had released him a few minutes earlier. We jumped in the car and spent the next thirty minutes searching for Toni along the side of the road in a little town in the south. And this was just the beginning of the day!
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Jun 23rd, 2003