Several days after the interrogation with knives, the same men came back again. Abu Talal and the others were out. They had a document with many pages in Arabic and told me it was a transcript of my testimony. They wanted me to sign every single page of it. I didn’t even bother to bring up the objection that I could have been signing my own death warrant for all I knew. It would have been as pointless as saying, Talk to my lawyer.
They looked at the papers and picked up where they’d left off, still aggressive—minus the kitchen knives, though. “You’re lying, we know it.” The fear was steadily building inside me. It set off a metallic taste in my mouth. I had a queasy feeling that I wasn’t going to get out of this one. “You’re an American. We know you’re working for the Americans. We’re going to kill you. We’re going to execute you. You’re a spy and we kill spies.”
I stuck to my story and tried not to think about the ridiculous logic of what they were saying. Why would they want to kill an American if they were hoping to get aid from the Americans? There were already rumors at the time that the CIA was vetting rebels for a covert training program in Jordan. They must have already had operatives on the ground. I assumed none of them had ever shown up in these parts and the rebels were getting disillusioned. During the beginning of the war there was talk that the Americans would funnel tons of arms to the rebels and create a no-fly zone. All I saw was Russian-made equipment (probably captured from Syrian army stocks) trying to shoot down helicopters that were bombing the rebels mercilessly. So resentment against the Americans was understandable.
Still, I intuitively felt that the interrogators were grasping at straws, trying to trip me up in my story. They were hoping I was more important than I was, but it was becoming clear to them that I was just a paltry young freelance photographer who’d gotten a little too hungry for the right shot.
After about an hour, as the interrogation was winding down, Abu Talal showed up with Ali and the other kids. They gave me the papers to sign, which I did, and then suddenly everyone was very nice to me, like, Hey it’s okay. It’s all over.
The sudden switch caught me off balance. Abu Talal was my buddy now. He told me to grab my computer and open it up with the password. I assumed he wanted me to show them pictures of me with the Ogaden rebels in Ethiopia. But as soon as I opened it he knew exactly which folder he wanted me to double-click—my personal photos.
“What is this?” he said.
My heart sank. I suddenly realized that they’d gone through my computer at some point and found the folder with all the pictures of my past girlfriends. One of them had been a very successful model for a well-known lingerie company—as well as somewhat of an exhibitionist. While we were going out, before one of us had to go on a lengthy trip for work, she’d sneak little videos onto my computer to tease me while we were apart.
Abu Talal went straight for her. The two interrogators were sitting next to me. A few minutes earlier they were telling me they were going to execute me for being a spy, and now they were all pals of mine anticipating a hormonal rush. I clicked the video and my girlfriend appeared sauntering around in her lingerie. She uttered a few seductive words that the men clearly couldn’t give a rat’s ass about, and then slowly started showing her magnificent body, bit by bit.
They called in other guys from the unit waiting outside. Two more showed up and sat next to me to watch my ex-girlfriend spread her long, sensuous legs and finger herself for me. For me exclusively.
This video used to drive me crazy. She knew all the teases and reveals that could press my buttons. Now I was just feeling depressed because I had to share it with this band of troglodytes drooling over my shoulder.
This was the life that I’d left behind, the life they’d taken away from me. And they were all just laughing. My intimacy had become a mockery to them. I tried to feign indifference, but I felt mortally wounded deep inside, in a place I hadn’t even realized existed.
From The Shattered Lens by Jonathan Alpeyrie with Stash Luczkiw and Bonnie Timmermann. Copyright 2017 by Jonathan Alpeyrie, Stash Luczkiw, and Bonnie Timmermann. Excepted by permission of Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.