'I Tried Not To Think About The Possibilities,' Says American Held In Syria

Jun 10, 2011

Pathik Root had been in Syria just 10 days when he stopped on March 18 to watch as one of the first protests against the regime of President Bashar Assad broke out in Damascus.

Within seconds after he pulled his BlackBerry from a pocket, he was in the hands of Syrian security. Quickly, he was put in the back of an SUV and whisked away.

So began a confusing, disturbing and sometimes terrifying two weeks for the 21-year-old Middlebury College student during which he was held in a Syrian prison, interrogated and sometimes threatened. He was never beaten, but he heard the sounds as others were.

The second week he was there, "Tik" told us today when he visited NPR's offices, he had been moved from a small cell he shared with one man to another that held more than 20 prisoners. "There was torture pretty much around the clock on Fridays and Saturdays and at least once a day the other days," he says, and he could hear the screams. "I know people were being beaten and I was told that people were being electrocuted if not worse."

What saved him from being beaten, Tik believes, was his American citizenship. Prisoners from Syria and other countries, including some Iraqis, were not so fortunate.

And that is a message he thinks needs to be spread. "A lot of these people have had way, way worse" things done to them than happened to him. "One of the only reasons I'm telling my story is ... to give people the beginning taste of what some of these guys go through" — up to and including being killed.

Some of his fellow prisoners, says Tik, were beaten on the feet and legs with electric cords.

Through the two weeks, Tik says, he "tried not to think about the possibilities" and what might happen to him. Interrogators wanted to know if he was with the CIA or was a journalist ("I'm not sure which was worse to them," he jokes). Tik, who speaks Arabic, says he was never really told what was going on.

Ultimately, diplomatic efforts by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the State Department led to his release, Tik believes. He's now back to blogging at Mideast Reports and is in Washington, D.C., for a summer internship.

We sat down with him to talk about what happened, and put together this short audio report (apologies to some who may not be able to use the audio player):

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