Harry McCartan, 23, was taken to hospital semi-conscious with his hands still nailed to fencing after firefighters cut him free.
He had also been battered about the legs with a blunt instrument, possibly spiked with nails, inflicting multiple punctures to his legs.
As surgeons at the city’s Royal Victoria Hospital battled to save his hands, the victim’s father, Henry, described the horror of seeing his son after the gruesome ordeal.
“He was covered in muck and he was bleeding from his eyes and bleeding from his ears.
“His face was unrecognisable, I had to identify him by a tattoo on his arm.”
A hospital spokesman said Mr McCartan was in a stable condition.
Paramilitary vigilantes have been blamed for the vicious beating at Dunmurry on the south-west outskirts of Belfast early on Saturday.
The attack has been linked to alleged car crime in the area.
Even by the brutal standards of the North’s so-called punishment attacks, police said this was a horrific assault.
The victim was found in the staunchly loyalist Seymour Hill estate just a few miles from his home in the nationalist Poleglass estate.
But the officer leading the hunt for the gang that inflicted the injuries said he did not believe it was a sectarian attack.
Superintendent Gerry Murray said: “I have never come across anything so barbaric. This is a young man was set upon by an unknown group who brutally beat him and then nailed him to a post.” He had been dragged into a field and beaten before he was taken down a lane and nailed, by his hands, to a wooden stile.
He was found lying slumped by the fencing, indicating he may already have been semi-conscious at the time.
A trail of blood from his body led to a red Metro car nearby. Sources said the car was bought for around stg£90 (141 euro) in a pub in Portrush, County Antrim, last month by two men who did not want the tax book.
Mr McCartan said his son was last seen leaving his home on Friday to go to social security offices.