Syrian doctor in German torture trial ‘felt sorry’ for detainees
A Syrian doctor accused of torture and murder while working in military hospitals in his war-torn homeland told a German court on Tuesday that he “felt sorry” for patients who were beaten and blindfolded.
Alaa Mousa, 36, who arrived in Germany in 2015 and practised medicine in the country until his arrest, is on trial for crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors have alleged that besides kicking and beating inmates, he doused a teenage boy’s genitals in alcohol before setting them alight and did the same to an adult prisoner.
But Mousa told the court he felt sympathy for detainees.
“I saw the military secret service beating injured detainees. I felt sorry for them, but I couldn’t say anything, or it would have been me instead of the patient,” Mousa told judges at Frankfurt’s higher regional court.
Mousa stands accused of 18 counts of torturing detainees in Damascus and the western city of Homs in 2011-12. He also faces one count of murder for allegedly administering a lethal injection to a prisoner who resisted being beaten, according to federal prosecutors.
His case is the second landmark trial in Germany over atrocities committed by the Syrian regime during the country’s civil war.
Earlier this month, another German court sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at a Damascus detention centre a decade ago.
Mousa denies the accusations against him but has yet to respond to them in detail.
Describing his experiences at the military hospital in Homs in 2011 after Arab Spring protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime led to a brutal crackdown, Mousa said so many opposition demonstrators were brought in with injuries that it was “chaos”.
Some of the detainees showed signs of having been tortured or beaten, he said.
– ‘Inhumane’ –
But Mousa, a civilian doctor, never asked questions, having been told by his supervisor that the military secret service was “in control” of the hospital.
On at least one occasion, Mousa said he witnessed a blindfolded patient, his hands tied behind his back, being beaten by military secret service and some of the military medical staff working at the hospital.
“I was very scared of the military secret service and also of the medical staff that just joined in,” he told the court.
He also said he thought it was “inhumane” to keep patients blindfolded while they were being sutured or otherwise treated.
Asked whether he felt sympathy for the demonstrators, Mousa said neither he nor his family were political activists. “But I also wasn’t a super supporter of the regime.”
The anti-Assad protests started off peacefully, he recalled, but he said they quickly turned more “radical”. “I’m against violence on either side,” he added.
The proceedings in Germany are enabled by the legal principle of “universal jurisdiction”, which allows serious crimes to be prosecuted even if they were committed in a different country. Other cases involving the Syrian conflict have also sprung up in Austria, France and Norway.
A German woman who moved to Syria aged 15 to join the Islamic State group went on trial in the eastern city of Halle on Tuesday, accused of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
Prosecutors in Frankfurt say Syria’s military hospitals play a key role in Assad’s state-sponsored torture system, and that Mousa helped to perpetrate “a systematic attack on the civilian population”.
Mousa left Syria for Germany in mid-2015, arriving not as a refugee but on a visa for skilled workers.
He worked in several places as an orthopaedic doctor, including in the picturesque spa town of Bad Wildungen. He was arrested in June 2020 after Syrian witnesses came forward.