NEW YORK: Syria is holding tens of thousands of detainees in a "torture archipelago" in which they are subjected to beatings, electric shocks and other abuse, a U.S.-based rights group said Tuesday.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch documented 27 detention facilities across the country it said were used to hold people swept up in the government's brutal crackdown on a 16-month uprising.
The group said it had carried out more than 200 interviews with former detainees, and military and intelligence defectors, "almost all" of whom described experiencing or witnessing torture, including "prolonged beatings, often with objects such as batons and wires."
Other methods included "holding the detainees in painful stress positions for prolonged periods of time, often with the use of specially devised equipment, the use of electricity, burning with car battery acid, sexual assault and humiliation, the pulling of fingernails, and mock execution."
Human Rights Watch said the detainees described being held in overcrowded facilities with inadequate food and the routine denial of medical assistance, with several saying they had witnessed people dying from torture.
The group said that in addition to the 27 facilities -- operated by four main intelligence agencies commonly referred to as the "mukhabarat" -- detainees were being held in stadiums, military bases, schools and hospitals.
A 31-year-old detainee held in Idlib province in the northwest was quoted as saying that interrogators had squeezed his fingers with pliers and put staples in his fingers, chest and ears.
"I was only allowed to take them out if I spoke. The nails in the ears were the most painful. They used two wires hooked up to a car battery to give me electric shocks. They used electric stun-guns on my genitals twice," he said.
"I thought I would never see my family again. They tortured me like this three times over three days."
The report quoted a former intelligence officer as describing a wide range of torture methods, including hanging prisoners by their hands from the ceiling and putting prisoners in coffins and threatening to kill them.
"I've also seen them using martial art moves, like breaking ribs with a knee kick. They put pins under your feet and hit you so that you step on them."
More than 16,500 people have been killed in violence since the uprising against Assad's rule broke out in March last year, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.