After locking his body in a truck tire. After handcuffing his hands behind his back, they turned him over so that his weight was resting on his knees and forehead. After pouring water on him, they hit his feet and hands with steel cables. It was at this point that Theo Padnos confessed to helping the CIA kill Islamic terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, being gay, helping the CIA to source on Al-Qaeda in Syria and its desire to rape women. Syrian.
None of this was true.
“The ideal torturer in an Islamic state is someone who completely withdraws from the act,” says Padnos, whose new book, Blindfold: A Memory of Capture, Torture, and Enlightenment, recounts the nearly two years during which he was held as a prisoner by Al-Qaeda in Syria. “[The torturer] does his part without emotion. The vast majority of them saw torture as a job they had to do to cleanse Syria from the bad elements that had crept into the nation during the Assad era.
Padnos, a writer who spoke Arabic, traveled to Syria in late 2012 with the aim of walking along the Syrian-Turkish border and recounting how the uprising against the Assad regime was affecting the average citizen. He had been to Syria in the past, had even studied at an Islamic religious school in Damascus. But the Syria he knew no longer existed, and in the book he is the first to admit that his underestimation of the situation in 2012 and his lack of a press card – he had no mission – are which got him into trouble. .
“I thought I knew Syria so well that I could get along with everyone,” Padnos says. “But obviously the whole country was undergoing a radical psychological transformation. Something had happened in the countryside that had changed the whole complexion of the company.
Padnos decided to sneak into Syria from Antakya, Turkey, with a group of men he believed to be smugglers. But these companions kidnapped him and eventually he was handed over to Jebhat al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaeda franchise. Thrown into a cell in the basement of the Aleppo eye hospital, Padnos begins an odyssey that sees him transferred to the basement of a villa, then to a grocery store, a warehouse basement, a basement. floor of the Aleppo Motor Vehicle Department, a janitor’s closet, a cell on a farm, and towards the end of his captivity, a wealthy villa where he was granted a few small freedoms and was essentially placed under house arrest. All the while, he was regularly tortured and referred to by his captors with such charming names as Pig, Donkey, Bug, and Filth.
“There is a psychological feeling of dread and hopelessness” in situations like this, says Padnos. “You don’t know how long it will last and where it will last. They can drag it around for months. But, he adds in the book, “once you know the rules, life in our society, even in its worst places, in which I’m sure I lived, was bearable.
Padnos says his captors told him they hated the West because of its arrogance, concern for sex, and alleged submission to Jews. Some wanted to establish an age-old Islamic dream, where Muslims would live in harmony with the land and themselves, invincible before the enemies of Islam, and one with the Qur’an. Padnos admits that some of their grievances made sense, that “they feel oppressed in their own country. A major grievance is that Islam as a religion is not the power it once was, it does not deliver justice as it once did.
““I negotiated with terrorists every day. I had no moral qualms about talking to anyone if it was to save the life of an American citizen. ““
In this regard, the desire for a purer and more just Islamic society in some ways reflects the anger of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. “The main comparison is the radicalization of normal people,” Padnos says. “What has happened in Syria is that huge sections of the population have become radicalized. Most of these MAGA guys, they believe they’re on a spiritual quest to make America great. They have surrendered to an authority they really don’t understand. Here it’s Donald Trump, over there it’s ISIS. It is the crowd element that is scary. “
During his time in captivity, Padnos got used to what he calls “welcome parties” – the beatings he received upon entering a new prison – and began to think about his constant attempts to get rid of himself. lice as a “leisure activity”. He realized that his guards were often bored and to alleviate their boredom, they mistreated him. He also had an extremely controversial relationship with cellmate Matt Schrier, a photojournalist who converted to Islam in prison.
“Matt hated me because I refused to convert, because I felt I was more than willing to find good in an al Qaeda suicide bomber than I was to spend time in conversation with. him, and because I knew the secret of his evil Faith. (Schrier admitted that his conversion to Islam improved his relationship with his captors). “
Padnos was finally released in August 2014, thanks to a ransom paid by the Qatari government which, he says, “probably started the problem; they sent a lot of arms to Syria which ended up in the hands of the radicals. They had this idea to sponsor a revolution in Syria [but] they armed the people who tortured me. Padnos was forced to rely on Qatar’s largesse because the US policy is not to negotiate with terrorists, which the former prisoner gets angry with when the subject is brought up.
“I negotiated with terrorists every day,” he said. “I had no moral qualms about talking to anyone if it was to save the life of an American citizen. The United States will talk to them, but it will not make any concessions to the terrorists. “
You can understand why Padnos feels this way – any hostage probably feels the same – and still doesn’t agree with him. But there are bigger and more disappointing lessons that Padnos wants readers to take away. Headband: “I want readers to see that a strange psychological phenomenon has invaded large swathes of the landscape. They called it a caliphate, I call it mass madness. It is The Handmaid’s Tale, a nightmarish society where women are sex slaves and people are tortured in public.
Still, Padnos returned home to Vermont safely, and says that if nothing else, the experience has made him realize “how fragile life is.” I had a second chance at life and I will not take such cavalier risks in my life. I’ve been there happier than before, eager to live life.
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