Once a French military barracks complex of South Lebanon built in the 1930s, the Israelis converted the Khiyam Lebanese military base into a detention center in 1984. Infamous for the torture of captured members of the resistance, their relatives, and those who refused to cooperate with Israel and the South Lebanon Army (SLA), the 5000 detainees held there never went to trial and at least 15 never made it out alive. Formerly known as the Free Lebanon Army who fought against the PLO, Amal, and Hezbollah, the SLA was a Lebanese militia that operated as the Israeli proxy during the 1985-2000 period. The SLA is known locally in the South as jeish Lahad (Lahad’s army) after Antoine Lahad, the general that took over when the previous leader, Saad Haddad, died in ’84.
The SLA disintegrated in 2000 with the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the prison has been a symbol of the Israeli occupation of the South ever since. After the withdrawal, many SLA members fled to Israel and Europe out of fear of how their fellow Lebanese would feel about their actions when the dust settled.
Israel denies any involvement in what went down in Khiyam and says the SLA did all the dirty work. They just supervised and provided the equipment, training, and funds. According to a Human Rights Watch report, Israeli intelligence agents had direct involvement with the Lebanese interrogators. It also states, “Israel is obligated under international law to hold accountable and prosecute its own citizens and Lebanese nationals who participated in or condoned acts of torture at Khiyam.” Instead, those that fled to Israel are rumored to be living under their protection at the expense of the Israeli taxpayers.
The 70x70cm bathrooms (seen above) of the military base were converted into solitary cells that left prisoners in complete darkness. Torture ranged from electrocution of the genitals to whipping while tied naked to a flagpole in the blazing sun or freezing cold to being doused in hot and cold water while cuffed blindfolded to window grilles. Prisoners were allowed out in the sun for 15-20 minutes every week or two. The “chicken cage” was a 90 cubic centimeter enclosure for extra-severe forms of punishment.
“In Khiyam prison, we died a hundred times every day.” – Al-Akhbar
The guide of the premises, Ahmad el-Amine, was a prisoner of Khiyam for 4 years. As we passed the pile of stones that was once the cells of 500 female prisoners, he said that the SLA (or the Israelis by contiguity) would sometimes detain the wives, sisters, and mothers of the male prisoners. His wife was an example. Besides those who were working with the resistance, female relatives were also taken in and used as leverage to get prisoners to give up information. They’d tell a male detainee that their mother or wife was in the next room, make rape threats, and force him to listen to her screams until he’d cough up the answers kept secret while under interrogation.
Perhaps the most disturbing part about all the physical and psychological torture was that it was conducted by their compatriots, sometimes their own village neighbors who had joined the SLA.
KHIYAM PRISON TODAY
During the 34-day 2006 war with Israel, in an attempt to erase what happened there, the grounds of the Khiyam Prison were bombed via airstrike. Along with the lives of 4 UN observers, around 65% of the structure was reduced to rubble leaving behind just a few solitary and group cells with their intact bedframes plus vehicles used by the multiple armed groups.
Sitting at the top of a hill overlooking the border towns of Lebanon and just up the street from the municipality building of Khiyam, the remains of the prison receive visitors from all over. Ahmad lives there, giving tours in a yellow branded cap and selling $4 DVDs on the torture and disturbing history of the site. Old trucks and tanks rust near the watchtowers on each corner that now have Hezbollah flags waving from their posts.
If you find yourself in the South, go see it while you still can. If there’s ever another offensive with our favorite foe, they may attempt to strikeout “Khiyam Prison” on their to-do list once and for all.