[R-G] IRAQ: Torture commonplace, say inmates' families
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Tue May 4 00:19:17 MDT 2004
Monday May 3, 2004
Torture commonplace, say inmates' families
Luke Harding at Abu Ghraib prison, near Baghdad, where stories of US guards
routinely abusing prisoners come as no surprise to Iraqis
For the families standing in the dusty car park of Abu Ghraib prison
yesterday, the revelations of torture and abuse came as no surprise. Every
morning, relatives of Iraqi detainees inside the US prison, just west of
Baghdad, gather in the hope that their loved ones might be released. They
The photos of US soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi detainees may have
provoked outrage across the world. But for Hiyam Abbas they merely confirmed
what she already knew - that US guards had tortured her 22-year-old son
Breaking down in tears, Mrs Abbas said US guards had refused to let her in.
She had so far only managed to see Hassan once - two months ago - following
his arrest last November.
"He told me: 'Mum, they are taking our clothes off. We are nude all the
time. They are getting dogs to smell our arses. They are also beating us
"It's completely humiliating," Mrs Abbas said. "My son is sick and suffering
from hypertension. During the interview the American soldiers were standing
so close to us. My son was crying."
Her son had been detained in the Baghdad suburb of Al-Dora, after a gang
broke into their house. What did she think of the Americans now?
"They are rubbish," she said. "Saddam Hussein may have oppressed us but he
was better than the Americans. They are garbage."
Yesterday other Iraqis gave similar accounts of what goes on inside Abu
Ghraib, once a centre of torture and execution under Saddam.
The US military last week claimed that "no more than 20" US soldiers had
been involved in abusing and humiliating inmates. The vast majority of US
guards were not involved, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt suggested.
Yesterday, however, Abu Salem, who spent six months inside Abu Ghraib
between August and February, said abuse by US guards went on all the time.
Mr Salem, 41, said he had also known about the practice of US soldiers
posing for pictures with Iraqi prisoners for five months. "This didn't take
place in the general camp but in individual cells," he said.
Mr Salem said he had been in the jail shortly before a visit from the
International Red Cross in January. Until then, detainees in the prison wing
had been kept naked.
"The night before the Red Cross arrived, the American soldiers gave them
some new clothes. They told us that if we complained to the Red Cross about
our treatment we would be kept in prison forever. They said they would never
let us out."
Mr Salem said he had come to the jail, a short drive from the town's chaotic
vegetable market, to try to find out what had happened to his three
brothers. They were still inside the prison, he said, behind its outer fence
and a vast razor wire- topped inner wall.
Generally, detainees were only tortured in the days immediately after their
arrest, during interrogation, he added.
Many of the allegations made by Mr Salem and other former detainees
yesterday correspond with the damning internal US army report into Abu
Ghraib obtained by the Guardian and the New Yorker magazine.
Yesterday the mother of one detainee, Samira Hassan, said the latest
allegations were horribly familiar.
Her 22-year-old son Abbas had been arrested three months ago while walking
past a US military base in the Baghdad suburb of Amariya.
She finally managed to see him in prison two weeks ago. "He told me they are
using electric shocks against the prisoners and taking off their clothes. He
also told me something I can hardly talk about - that the Americans are
raping the Iraqi men.
"This is terrible," Mrs Hassan said. "This is shame for us. We have a
different culture and different religion. They should not do that.
"We are not talking about one case but of thousands of cases," she said.
"The Americans said they would bring us freedom. Is this what they mean?"
Not all the detainees inside Abu Ghraib were young men, it emerged
yesterday, or even very plausible resistance fighters. Several relatives
wearing flowing white dish-dashes had turned up to try to visit Qahta
al-Salim, a prominent 70-year-old sheikh from the Sunni town of Samarra.
Mr al-Salim had been in American custody for four months, his son, Mutashar
Qahtan, said. US soldiers arrested him at his home after a neighbour claimed
he supported the resistance.
"My father is an old man. He has a heart complaint. The first thing they did
was to make him stand up for 12 hours," he complained. "They then took him
to Tikrit and finally to here."
Mr Qahtan said the allegations of abuse by US soldiers were "nothing new".
He said he spent 47 days last year in US custody in Tikrit. "Personally they
didn't do anything wrong to me," he said. "But I saw for myself what they
did to others. They forced a group of prisoners to stand naked on the roof
for seven days. They also told us that all Iraqis were shit."
There are around 8,000 Iraqi prisoners in US custody, held in camps across
Iraq without trial or access to a lawyer. A tiny minority of those detained
are high-ranking members of the former regime.
Relatives, however, insist that the majority of "security detainees" are
innocent, and claim they are often victims of random arrest following
attacks on coalition forces. Either way, the images of torture and
humiliation would merely serve to fuel the armed struggle against US
occupation, Majid al-Salim, the brother of the imprisoned sheikh, said.
"The Americans are driving people into the arms of the Maqawama
[resistance]," he said. "We now look back at Saddam's era with nostalgia,"
he added. "He was a good leader. There was security. We hope he comes back."
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