Inside the Alaa M. Trial #29: “Insults are like drinking water”
Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany
Trial Monitoring Summary #29
Hearing Dates: December 13 & 15, 2022
CAUTION: Some testimony includes descriptions of torture.
Note that this summary is not a verbatim transcript of the trial; it is merely an unofficial summary of the proceedings.
Throughout this summary, [information located in brackets are notes from our trial monitor] and “information placed in quotes are statements made by the witness, judges or counsel.” The names and identifying information of witnesses have been redacted.
SJAC’s 29th trial monitoring report details days 46 & 47 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. The Judges continued their questioning of the witness, P11, by asking detailed questions about the death of the witness’ cousin. Due to discrepancies between a prior statement to the police as well as the testimony of P8, the Judges confronted P11 with numerous sections of both. There were some difficulties in classifying the timing and events given by the witness. But there were also insights into the detention conditions and the mistreatment and torture the detainees had to endure. The second trial day was unexpectedly interrupted due to a potential re-traumatization of the witness. Before taking a lunch break, P11 was repeatedly questioned about the details of his detention and the death of his cousin. Three hours of interrogation resulted in a visibly emotional and exhausted witness who did not return after the break. The witness protection unit of the Federal Criminal Police Office recommended interrupting the questioning due to serious health concerns for the witness. The Judges endorsed the advice and adjourned the trial.
Day 46 – December 13, 2022
The first part of the session was dedicated to the Judges’ questioning of P11 regarding his cousin’s death. The Judges wanted to clarify which of the details given by the witness he had seen himself, heard, or were told to him by others. While the witness tried to classify the events, translation uncertainties arose due to the possibility of distinct meanings of terms such as ‘perceive’. The interpreter tried to clarify that he was not always able to identify whether the witness had perceived, seen, or remembered something. The Judges therefore repeatedly examined the circumstances surrounding the death and asked for descriptions of persons, the location, and the sequence of events. The attempt to recreate the events on the day of the purported killing was oftentimes impeded by confusing details and a lack of chronological order. Nonetheless, the witness gave a vivid impression of the treatment the detainees had to endure. According to P11, they were subjected to insults, beatings, and punishment on a daily basis.
In the second part of the session, the Judges thoroughly examined when and how many times the witness had seen the Accused. The Judges asked P11 how many times his cousin was beaten, and where exactly in the Military Hospital the beatings and his death occurred. For a better understanding, the court referred to the sketch that P11 had drawn on the previous trial day. It was shown in the courtroom and discussed by the parties to the proceeding. Based on the sketch, P11 was also able to clarify which events he could see from where he was located. Moreover, the witness was questioned about other injured detainees as well as the persons who took away the body of his cousin. The Judges dedicated a lot of time to question P11 on the circumstances of learning the names of the doctors. Some of the details resulted in confusion rather than clarification. Confronted with P8’s testimony and with his own statement from a police questioning, P11 had difficulties resolving some of the issues.
Day 47 – December 15, 2022
The Judges continued their questioning of P11. He was again asked about the details of his detention. The Judges asked P11 to describe the cell from the inside. Moreover, P11 recounted the meal times and what was served for breakfast and dinner. The Judges concluded that the detainees were given just enough to survive. When questioned about the hygienic conditions, the witness explained the poor and filthy circumstances in which they had to live. Besides a lack of blankets during cold winter days, bugs and diseases were common. P11 was further asked to describe his clothing which led to discrepancies with other information available to the court.
Subsequently, P11 gave testimony about other detainees. One of them was severely bodily injured. According to the indictment, the Accused performed the surgery without anesthesia. During the hearing, P11 explained that this information was hearsay circulating among the prisoners. The Judges further examined the fate of a student who supposedly died after he was detained. However, P11 could not recall any details about the death and mentioned that due to the torture in Syria and a recent stroke, he suffered from memory loss and could not remember everything. Nonetheless, P11 could recall that many detainees were injured and had infected wounds, he considered this normal. The Judges were also interested in torture and interrogation methods applied in the department. P11 explained in detail how and where these techniques were imposed on the detainees.
A recurring issue was the use of “we” by the witness which required the Judges to seek clarification. The interpreter elaborated on the use of pronouns in Arabic culture and explained that an educated Arab does not speak of “I”. As a result, the Judges repeatedly needed to clarify if the witness was speaking about himself or if other persons were involved, particularly related to his previous statements. Despite the resolution of the fact that the witness was not involved in all torture measures, he testified extensively about what he personally had to endure.
Following his own experiences, the Judges questioned P11 again about the circumstances of his cousin’s death. P11 testified repeatedly when he was informed about his death, whether and how they had to certify it, and when he learned about the names of the doctors. Discrepancies between the testimony and previous information obliged further scrutiny until the witness became agitated. The Presiding Judge tried to explain the procedure and the obligations of the judges emphasizing that discrepancies require clarification, however, P11 should not consider them as accusations of untruthfulness. The witness told the court that he was tortured again before leaving the country which aggravated his condition and ability to remember details.
Before the lunch break was issued, the questioning continued concerning factual and temporal classifications related to P11’s cousin’s death. The repetition of the same questions and the confrontation with other statements and testimonies resulted in a visibly exhausted and emotional witness who started breathing heavily and crying just before leaving the courtroom. The repetition of reliving the event caused a potential re-traumatization of the witness who did not return after the break. The witness protection unit of the Federal Criminal Police Office recommended interrupting the hearing due to the danger to P11’s health. Just before leaving the courtroom, P11 shouted in Arabic “Same wounds, every time the same wounds” which was not translated. Nonetheless, the Judges endorsed the recommendation and suspended the session in order to not jeopardize P11’s well-being.
After the end of the session, the Accused started crying and turned to the Presiding Judge. What was spoken, was inaudible because the microphones were already turned off.
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