By C. J. CHIVERS
Published: August 22, 2013
Matthew Schrier was helpless. An American photographer held in a rebel-controlled prison in the Syrian city of Aleppo, he and a fellow prisoner had been caught trying to gouge a hole in their cell’s wooden door. The captors took his cellmate, he said, beat him, and brought him back with blood-streaked ankles and feet.
Now was Mr. Schrier’s turn.
Wearing masks, his jailers led him out, sat him down and forced a car tire over his knees. They slid a wooden rod behind his legs, locking the tire in place. Then they rolled him over. Mr. Schrier was face down on a basement floor, he said, legs immobilized, bare feet facing up.
“Give him 115,” one of his captors said in English, as they began whipping his feet with a metal cable.
When the torture ended Mr. Schrier could not walk. His captors, he said, dragged him to his cell. He remembers their parting phrase: “Have you heard of Guantánamo Bay?”
For seven months, Mr. Schrier, 35, was a prisoner in Syria of jihadi fighters opposed to President Bashar al-Assad. Held in bases and prisons run by two Islamist rebel groups, he said, he was robbed, beaten and accused of being an American spy by men who then assumed his identity online.
His captors drained one of his bank accounts. They shopped in his name on eBay. They sent messages from his e-mail account to his mother and his best friend assuring them he was fine, but had extended his trip to do more work.
“I’m doing good man,” read an e-mail to the friend on Feb. 2. “I have access to Internet for like 5 minutes or so, and I will not be able to log in my e-mail for at least the next few weeks.”
Mr. Schrier escaped on July 29, he said, by squeezing out of a basement window and wandering, in shoes too small and with the long beard he had grown in captivity, through Aleppo until he found other rebels.
These men protected him and drove him the next day to Turkish authorities at the border. American diplomats soon whisked Mr. Schrier away.
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