Journalist

Losing the Lonely War / Foreign Policy

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Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 8.11.09 AMHer hands showed every tendon, and her arms were like matchsticks. With a grayish tint to her face, Alma Abdulrahman, 27, spoke from a hospital bed in Amman, Jordan, one year ago about the torture and rape she’d endured at what she said were the hands of the Syrian government. Paralyzed from her diaphragm down, she spoke in an exhausted voice over Skype to me in New York last June.

She described being stuffed into a tire and beaten, being drugged and sexually assaulted twice a day while passing in and out of consciousness, and being whipped with a wire during two separate detention periods that lasted each about a month. As she did, Abdulrahman wavered between anger, despair, and a resolve to speak: “You know, these are things no one talks about but I’m going to share them with you because I want the whole world to listen and see.”

Having joined the Free Syrian Army early in the revolution, Abdulrahman said she rose to the rank of battalion commander, becoming the rare woman on the front lines, overseeing about 15 men. Paralysis came after her second detention, when a soldier struck her in the neck with a rifle at a regime checkpoint. She told me she’d killed at least nine men.

“If I weren’t so strong, I would have died a long time ago,” she said, claiming to be “working” from the hospital by facilitating a way for her fellow revolutionaries to receive medications from physicians in Daraa, in southern Syria. “If I was able to sit up — I swear by God — if I could just sit up, I would return to help the cause. I would assist the injured, in the very least.”

Her resolve, however, was plainly wavering.

“I am only a spirit and a voice now,” she said.

“I am practically dead.”

“I am only a soul.”

Abdulrahman endured torture and rape, separation from her children, paralysis, and loneliness. She lasted longer than many would in her position. But on June 14, 2014, everything ended: Abdulrahman died, bereft and alone, in a Jordanian hospital.

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