Physician tells of brother’s torture in Syria
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent March 3, 2012 10:02PM
Updated: April 5, 2012 8:23AM
MERRILLVILLE — Close to 400 members of the region’s Syrian-American community and their supporters gathered Saturday to raise awareness about the ongoing revolution in their homeland.
“It’s not an Arab issue. It’s not a Muslim issue. It’s a human issue,” said Dr. Hazem Hallak of Philadelphia, who was keynote speaker at the United for Freedom and Democracy benefit at the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center.
Hallak, who was born in Syria, shared his personal story of loss from the revolution by recounting the grizzly death of his brother, a physician, who stayed behind. This story and others underscore the humanitarian crisis growing in the divided nation since the Arab Spring uprising last March. Hallak’s brother was killed by the forces of President Bashar Assad less than a week after Hallak returned to Syria from his first visit to America where he attended a medical seminar.
When Hallak returned to Syria, Assad’s forces suspected otherwise. He was tortured before he was killed. His captors drilled into his brain while he was still living, burned his body with a welding torch, poked out his eyes and mutilated his genitals, according to his brother. They tried to strangle him with a rope so hard his fingers that were trying to stop the choking were almost severed.
“The thing I want you to understand when you look at this is my brother was not in an armed gang. He was not a crazy person. He just came to the U.S. to attend a meeting,” Hallak said.
Hallak said he is telling his brother’s story because the medical profession is being criminalized in Syria, adding to the humanitarian crisis.
“In Syria you are not allowed to treat the wounded from demonstrations,” he said. That means doctors must seek government permission to treat anyone with an injury. The family of the injured has to pay off government workers so the treatment is approved.
“Every time I speak the government goes to my brother’s grave and damages it,” Hallak said.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky said he will continue to do what he can to help, but until Russia and China change their backing of Assad, little will be accomplished by the U.N.
“I have tried to do my very best and I will continue to be an advocate with our national government,” Visclosky said.