Legacy of bitter war in Lebanon: thousand of Arab prisoners with nowhere to go; Hooded informers and beatings alleged by detainee
Washington — Christopher Giannou is a physician and Canadian national who worked in Lebanon until the Israeli invasion. From June 13 to June 20 he was detained by the Israeli Army, first in a detention camp in Lebanon and later in a prison in Israel.
Dr. Giannou studied medicine in Algiers and Cairo and has worked in Lebanon since 1980 with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, a relief organization established by the Palestine Liberation Organization. Prior to the June 6 invasion, he was medical director of the Red Crescent hospital in Nabatiyah.
On June 13, after the Israelis gained control of Sidon, where Dr. Giannou was then working in a Red Crescent hospital, he and other hospital personnel were ordered to report for ''identity verification.''
This is his account of his detention:
''All the males were paraded in front of three parked jeeps. In each one was a man with a hood over his head and an Israeli seated beside him. As we walked by, certain people would be singled out and walked away, and 'X' or something in Hebrew written on their backs. And, thus, 5,000 or 6,000 people were arrested on simple denunciation by a hooded man.
''We were taken to a convent schoolyard, where there was much coming and going, but the permanent population of prisoners was about 500 or 600.
''I was interrogated five times. During one interrogation, I heard blows being struck in the room next to mine and saw the face of the fellow when he exited. Obviously he had been beaten.''
In the schoolyard ''there was kicking, punching, beating with wooden sticks, chair legs - one fellow even had a modern version of a cat-o'-nine-tails. Some prisoners were beaten very severely for 10 or 15 minutes at a time. This included two other doctors with the Red Crescent - one an Iraqi surgeon, the other a Palestinian doctor in a preventive medicine department. This fellow was strung up from a tree by his hands and beaten while he hung there.
''On two occasions, I was called over to examine a prisoner and he was already dead. One fellow, the one closest to me - he was about 10 or 12 yards away from me - had been beaten severely for 10 or 15 minutes, then left to lie in the sun for several hours. When I was called over to examine him, he was dead.''
The doctor said he saw the second dead prisoner among a group of prisoners who he said were being beaten.
Dr. Giannou and two Norwegian health workers detained with him said that no Israeli officials in the prison camp did anything to stop the brutality. Their feeling was that the beatings were deliberate attempts to mete out indiscriminate punishments.
''There were Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Bangladeshis, and Pakistanis in the schoolyard.
''On the 15th, we were evacuated to a large food-processing plant on the outskirts of the city. There, on the lawn, were between 2,000 and 3,000 people.''
Later that day, Dr. Giannou was blindfolded and taken by bus to Megiddo prison in Israel. The Western nationals held there were housed in ordinary prison cells, along with the Egyptian nationals, while thousands of others, mainly Lebanese and Palestinians, were held in surrounding fields.
''A Lebanese/Austrian dual national was brought into the cells from the fields outside, and said there were thousands of prisoners there held in the same conditions we knew from the schoolyard, with the beatings, the bindings, and so on.''
On June 20, Dr. Giannou was told to get himself ready and was taken to Tel Aviv, where he was released in the presence of Canadian Embassy officials. Released along with him were Norwegians Dr. Steinar R. Berge and Oyvind Moller.
By mid-July, Giannou was in Washington at the start of a tour of US cities organized by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. While in the US capital, he testified before the Senate committee on the Middle East and met State Department officials, congressmen, and officials of the US Agency for International Development.
Early in his visit, Dr. Giannou was surprised to hear charges from a press spokesman at the Israeli Embassy here that he was suspected of having links with an unspecified European terrorist organization. He dismissed these charges angrily. ''The Israelis are unable to rebut any of the eyewitness evidence we have presented, so they resort to crude character defamation.'' Toronto-born Dr. Giannou and his Norwegian colleagues testified about aspects of the war in Lebanon over which the Israeli authorities had hitherto drawn a tight veil of censorship and silence.
Dr. Giannou and Dr. Berge both worked for some time up until June 10th in the (Lebanese) Government Hospital opposite the Palestinian refugee camp at Ain Al Hilweh, outside Sidon. On the morning of June 10, they learned that the Israeli forces besieging the camp would give them a half-hour ceasefire to evacuate the hospital. There were more than 200 (mainly civilian) patients and 3,000 to 4,000 other civilians who had sought shelter in its lower floors.
''As we walked along the periphery of the camp, we were able to get a good view of the scene inside. It was a scene of utter desolation. . . . There were still families there.
''Going by the camp, I counted at least 300 corpses, and this just in the periphery, in craters and so forth. These people had been killed by shelling, or from phosphorous bombs which calcinate anyone's body in exactly the position they catch it in.
''I saw fragments of cluster bombs - I had already heard them detonating beforehand. Nothing else sounds quite like a cluster bomb unless it is 100 or 200 infantrymen standing and firing at each other over a 10-second period.''