American Journalist Describes Torture, Imprisonment by Syrian Rebels

Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a New York writer focusing on radical Islam. He is completing a book on the international challenges America faces in the 21st century.


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According to Obama, aiding Syrian terrorists may be a “core national interest”. According to common sense, it’s a really bad idea. Here’s the story of one American who went to support the rebels, only to end up tortured by them.

In April, he said, the prisoners were moved to a rural villa, also run by Mohammad, where a boy who appeared to be 12 was allowed to beat some of the prisoners and shock them with Tasers.

Matthew Schrier was helpless. An American photographer held in a rebel-controlled prison in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he and a fellow prisoner had been caught trying to gouge a hole in their cell’s wooden door. The captors took his cellmate, he said, beat him, and brought him back with blood-streaked ankles and feet.

Wearing masks, his jailers led him out, sat him down and forced a car tire over his knees. They slid a wooden rod behind his legs, locking the tire in place. Then they rolled him over. Mr. Schrier was face down on a basement floor, he said, legs immobilized, bare feet facing up.

“Give him 115,” one of his captors said in English, as they began whipping his feet with a metal cable.

When the torture ended Mr. Schrier could not walk. His captors, he said, dragged him to his cell.

That was the Al Nusra Front’s version of Islamic justice. This is what Islamic justice looks like.

He pounded on his cell door and shouted. Abdullah arrived and told him he was in an Islamic court.

He asked what the charges were. Abdullah would not tell him.

Instead, Mr. Schrier said, he suggested “business propositions,” including that Mr. Schrier help solicit a $3 million ransom from an American embassy in exchange for a 5 percent cut, or that Mr. Schrier agree to be a courier and transport materials for his captors’ group.

Abdullah put him back in his cell. Mr. Schrier said he banged on the door until Abdullah returned, angry.

“In your country you have a saying: You are innocent until proven guilty,” Abdullah said. “Here we have the opposite. You are guilty until proven innocent. We do not know who you are.”

Thank goodness those Federal judges intervened to protect the practice of Islamic law in America.

For seven months, Mr. Schrier, 35, was a prisoner in Syria of jihadi fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Held in bases and prisons run by two Islamist rebel groups, he said, he was robbed, beaten and accused of being an American spy by men who then assumed his identity online.

His captors drained one of his bank accounts. They shopped in his name on eBay. They sent messages from his e-mail account to his mother and his best friend assuring them he was fine, but had extended his trip to do more work.

Too bad, McCain couldn’t stop by to visit him while he was in Syria.

Now in the United States, Mr. Schrier has returned with a firsthand account of the descent by elements of the anti-Assad forces into sanctimonious hatred and crime. His experience reflects the sharply deteriorated climate for foreigners and moderate Syrians in areas subject to the whims of armed religious groups whose members roam roads, staff checkpoints and occupy a constellation of guerrilla bases.

Mr. Schrier’s detention is one of more than 15 cases of Westerners, mostly journalists, being abducted or disappearing in Syria this year. The victims range from seasoned correspondents to new freelancers, like Mr. Schrier, who was covering his first war.

His experience also suggests the difficult choices for foreign governments that in principle support the rebels’ goal of overthrowing a dictatorship accused of using chemical weapons against civilians, but in practice fear aiding opposition factions that embrace terrorist tactics, intolerant religious rule or the same behaviors — abduction, torture, extralegal detention — that have characterized the Assad family’s reign.

Mr. Schrier said his captors were mostly members of the Nusra Front, a group aligned with Al Qaeda and designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations and the United States.

But as he was moved from prison to prison, he said, he and his main cellmate, another American, were also held by a unit of Ahrar al-Sham, an Islamist group that works closely with the Free Syrian Army, a rebel umbrella group recognized by Western and Arab governments.

Not just recognized, but armed and trained by those governments.

Later that night the guards moved Mr. Schrier to a cell with many prisoners, including Alawite soldiers and officers he would eventually befriend.

In late January guards brought Mr. Schrier to a different cell. Inside, Mohammad said, was another American.

Mr. Schrier looked in and, he said, could not believe that the man was a Westerner. He was filthy, with a long unkempt beard. Mohammad told Mr. Schrier to move in and shut the door.

“Why do they have you?” Mr. Schrier asked. The man swore in English, and said he was accused of being in the C.I.A.

As the two grew acquainted, the man said young Syrians had invited him to rebel territory in 2012 but had handcuffed him after he crossed the border. He had been jailed, he said, following a secret Islamic trial in which he was not told the charges.

The man was terrified. He said Mohammad, who had not yet struck Mr. Schrier, often beat him.

Mr. Schrier converted to Islam in March, he said, which improved his relations with the kidnappers and brought an added benefit: His jailers gave him something to read, an English-language Koran.

Note the pattern. Prisoners are forced to convert to Islam. Because Muslims treat other Muslims somewhat better than they treat non-Muslims.

That’s the basis of this entire conflict, both in Syria and worldwide.

  • Veracious_one

    Mr. Schrier converted to Islam in March, he said, which improved his
    relations with the kidnappers and brought an added benefit: His jailers
    gave him something to read, an English-language Koran.

    I wonder if he will un-convert or if he will sing praises of Islam, the religion of peace….

    • Joseph X.

      I guess he’ll blame the “extremists” for “polluting” the religion of peace.

  • Veracious_one

    Thank goodness those Federal judges intervened to protect the practice of Islamic law in America.

    Oklahoma judge Vicki Miles-Lagrange is one of these judges….

  • Arf

    I love it! A stupid, naïve American (35 yrs. old no less!) goes to Syria for a thrill and to save the poor Muslims from the Alawite dictator. And what do you know?! He gets a taste of reality! Kind of reminds me of Daniel Pearl going to Pakistan to show the world that all the terrorists really want is for the world to listen to their “reasonable” complaints. Hey Schrier, you moron: do you still believe the American media?

  • Arf

    If only John McCain and Chris Matthews could join him!