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Inside the Alaa M. Trial #43: When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

Inside the Alaa M. Trial #43: When the Doctor Becomes the Patient

Higher Regional Court – Frankfurt, Germany

Trial Monitoring Summary #43

Hearing Dates: May 16, 2023

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 43rd trial monitoring report details day 73 of the trial of Alaa M. in Frankfurt, Germany. This week’s hearing was dedicated to the forensic analysis of two witnesses’ scars. Ms. Siegel, a former colleague of Prof. Dr. Rothschild who presented the analysis of the Caesar Files, testified in regard to P4 and P11. Both reports detailed the findings of the inspection of scars and marks on the bodies of the two witnesses. Most of the scars, she concluded, were consistent with the events described by the witnesses, but could also be caused by other trauma. One set of scars, on the back of P11, was typical for the described cause, namely the beating with a hose.

The Judges further raised concern about the health of M. since they observed his appearance in court. M. explained that he is suffering from severe pain for which he is being treated with analgesic medication. Upon questioning, he said that he may have a trapped sciatic nerve, but in the worst case a herniated disc which would require surgery. To obtain a more specific diagnosis, an MRI scan was necessary. The Judges made clear that the treatment should be initiated without delay to avoid the aggravation of his condition. If he needed surgery, he should schedule it for the break in August. Since M. had concerns about a subsequent rehabilitation phase, the Judges clarified that he could be transferred from the prison hospital to the court and attend the proceedings as planned.


Day 73 – May 16, 2023

On this trial day, the forensic expert Ms. Siegel testified as an expert and as a witness. Ms. Siegel is a former colleague of Prof. Dr. Rothschild who testified the previous week. She was involved in the examination of one of the witnesses by the Forensic Institute in Cologne as mandated by the Prosecutor. Ms. Siegel currently works at the University Hospital in Düsseldorf, Germany. She is a trained doctor and recently submitted her doctoral thesis on injuries and scars of torture victims. The Court acknowledged her expertise and stated that she would be a suitable expert for future cases.

After informing Ms. Siegel about her rights and duties, the Judges asked her to elaborate on her memories from the examination of P4 and present her conclusions. Ms. Siegel remembered the case well because such cases were rare. She further recalled that she discussed the question of interpretation with colleagues in the Institute. Eventually, she examined P4 without the assistance of an interpreter because she was able to communicate well with the patient [in German]. Upon questioning by the Presiding Judge, Ms. Siegel confirmed that the examination took approximately 30 minutes. Before explaining the specific results for P4, she presented the general procedure of examining patients and documenting scars. She explained that all patients give statements on each of the scars she registered and explained the cause of it according to their own memory. For instance, P4 mentioned that he was hanged by the arms and continued to suffer from severe back pain. He further said that he was beaten on the soles of the feet (Falaqa) and continued to have pain due to this treatment. Moreover, P4 stated that several small scars were caused by beatings, kicks, and burning. Ms. Siegel evaluated the visible marks against the statements and presented her findings according to the categorization in the Istanbul Protocol. She concluded that almost all of the scars could be categorized as consistent [note: this refers to type (b) of the Istanbul Protocol: Consistent with: the lesion could have been caused by the trauma described, but it is non-specific and there are many other possible causes;]. She explained that, for instance, the statement by the witness that one injury became infected is possible, but she could not rule out that the respective scar was caused by another event since too much time had passed in between – P4 stated that these events took place 8 years ago. Overall, Ms. Siegel concluded that several scars were consistent with the stated event, but since they lack specificity, they may also have several other causes. This assessment aligned with what Prof. Dr. Rothschild had previously testified. Ms. Siegel also took photos of the scars which were inspected and explained in court. A few clarifying questions ensued but the overall assessment remained that the stated event or several other causes were likely.

After the evaluation of P4’s physical condition, the Judges asked Ms. Siegel to elaborate on the assessment of P11’s scars in which she was also involved. This evaluation was based on a set of photographs showing P11’s body that was forwarded to the Institute. Ms. Siegel explained the limitations in this case since the Institute received only six photographs of low quality and was not able to inspect P11 in person. The Institute created three reports of which she was involved in two. Despite the limitations, she concluded that one set of scars on his back which were, according to P11, caused by the beating with a 'green hose', were 'typical' for injuries of this type [Istanbul Protocol: (d) Typical of: this is an appearance that is usually found with this type of trauma, but there are other possible causes]. All in all, she could exclude certain other causes, however, was unable to entirely rule out that the scars have been caused by other events. Since none of the parties to the proceedings had questions regarding the report, she was dismissed after one hour.

After a short break, the Judges turned to M. and wanted to know how he was doing. Presiding Judge Koller explained that they have observed him in the past session, and based on his physical appearance and comportment, he did not seem to be fine. M. explained that since August [2022] he was facing health issues. He said that he already talked to the doctors in prison. He assumed that it was a sequela of a kidney surgery he underwent. The lack of movement due to his incarceration and the stress were now causing back pain that radiates into his legs. He speculated that it may be caused by a herniated disc, but he is hoping that it is only a pinched sciatic nerve. Due to this pain, he has been given ibuprofen, novalgin, and cortisol which is why he gained weight. He further explained that he would need to do an MRI scan to get a more specific diagnosis. Upon questioning by the Judges why he was waiting to get the treatment, he added that he did not want to miss the hearings and that he was fit to attend. The Judges were concerned that he was suffering or that the condition would aggravate since the treatment was only addressing symptoms, not the root cause of his issues. Presiding Judge Koller asked the Defense Team to initiate all measures so that M. could be treated outside the prison for a more detailed diagnosis which the Court would approve. Defense Counsel Bonn agreed with the Judges and said that he believes an MRI scan is indispensable. If necessary, Judge Koller added, he must undergo the surgery during the trial [According to German law a criminal proceeding can generally be interrupted for up to three weeks (Section 229 (1)) or four weeks in an ongoing trial (Section 229 (2)). In case of illness of the defendant, these time limits are suspended (Section 229 (3) 1). In this case, the proceedings could be suspended for approximately 2.5 months.].

Since the Court already scheduled a three-week break in August 2023, Presiding Judge Koller asked the Defense to organize the surgery, if necessary, for this time. M. raised concerns because he said that it is common to go to rehabilitation for 4-6 weeks after a surgery like this. M. added that “I will fight for my right. And when I am free, I can do everything outside.” Defense Counsel Bonn explained that M. did not want to miss the main hearing. Presiding Judge Koller explained that while they do everything to guarantee a speedy trial, they do not know how long the proceedings will take. There are prison hospitals where he can participate in the rehabilitation program and at the same time, he can be transferred to the hearings twice a week. The Judges repeated that they would approve of measures outside the prison if they were necessary such as an MRI scan in a specialized clinic. Judge Koller reminded Defense Counsel Bonn to initiate the required steps and emphasized that they noticed M.’s condition. He expressed that “it does not have to be more difficult than it already is” and adjourned the proceedings.


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