Former Lebanese Prisoners of ‘Tadmor’ Reenact Dark Days Within Assads’s Dungeons

Elie Chalala

The name Tadmor Prison evokes images of one of the cruelest prisons in the world, with its gory history of torture and intense suffering. The prison, which ISIS seized briefly in May 2015, and was retaken a year later by governmental forces under questionable circumstances, holds a dark place in the memories of those forced to live in it during the 1980s under the Hafez al-Assad regime.

Recently, Tadmor has appeared in the news due to a documentary about a group of its former Lebanese detainees. These men have come forward in an act of healing and confrontation, hoping to allow their past to come to terms with their present. Lokman Slim, a Lebanese writer and publisher, and his German wife, Monika Borgmann, a director and journalist, created an intense, eye-opening documentary with their world premiere of “Tadmor.” The film recounts the terrifying torture that took place within the walls of the prison, which, according to Syrian poet Farag Bayrakdar, functioned as a “kingdom of death and madness.” Bayrakdar remains a leading witness to life in the Assads’ prisons, where he spent more than 14 painful years.

The documentary, however, does not focus on the Syrian prisoners, who currently number in the hundreds of thousands, but rather concentrates on 22 former Lebanese prisoners still haunted by their horrific memories. Slim and Borgmann adopt a special format in the film that uses theatrical staging rather than a traditional interview style, with the former prisoners playing themselves in a reenactment that not only testifies as an indictment of the crimes committed against them, but also allows the men to stand together, confronting their past. “Ultimately, the men chose to reenact it,” says Director Borgmann in the film’s Director’s Note, “They wanted to relive it.” In fact, the survivors stepped once more into this dark period of their lives, playing both victims and victimizers for each other, in order to tell their story—a story with which they believe others, like themselves, still struggle to cope. Their performance serves as a form of therapy rather than entertainment.

(The above are edited excerpts from a longer Editor’s Notebook essay to appear in forthcoming Al Jadid, Vol. 20, No. 71, 2016).

In Photos: Left: Directors Monika Borgman and Lokman Slim; Right: A dormitory at Tadmor – the writing on the right reads “To preserve the dignity of citizens.” (Source: BBC)

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