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The curfew had just begun, at 11 p.m., as it has for the past three months in the Iraqi capital, and Nudir was late, but he was only a few hundred meters from his villa in the Zeyouna district when an American patrol blocked the BMW where he and two friends happened to be. Polite, but firm, the GIs stretched them out on the hood. They searched the vehicle. In the glove compartment they had a revolver for self-defense, as many Iraqis do. The Americans handcuffed them at once. "They made us get into an armored troop transport, and there they began to beat us up," said the young engineer, who, after spending the night at a collection center stuffed into a wire-mesh cage with 350 other suspects, finally ended up at the airport prison, "Camp Cropper," which consists of tarps surrounded by barbed wire under a blistering sun. There he spent sixteen days. That was at the end of May. He was registered as "enemy prisoner of war" number 8,122.
NUMBER 16,481As for Tony, he was arrested ten days later, on June 3, at his home in the Al-Mansour district. "Some thieves had started pillaging the house next door. Along with the other neighbors, we had started shooting in the air to make them go away, and the Americans arrived a few minutes later. They weren't interested in the thieves. They asked who had fired and where the guns were. I showed them the Kalashnikov I was keeping to protect my family. They confiscated it, and then they bound my hands and took me away," says the young Christian economist. It would be thirty-seven days before he came home again, after spending time in the prison camps that have been built in the southern part of the country, near Um Qasr. During his time in Camp Cropper, he received the number 16,481.Statistics are lacking, but these registration numbers give an idea of the number of persons arrested in Baghdad during the round-ups and searches conducted by American troops. "An enormous numbers of detainees are coming and going, making any precise accounting impossible," says a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross. While acknowledging that he "now has access to all detention centers," he complains about "the major problems, namely the slowness of procedures and the absence of lawyers and judges."The misadventures of Nudir and Tony are two stories among many others testifying to the daily repression enforced by American troops, who are feeling increasingly nervous. In his report to the Security Council, the UN representative in Baghdad, Sergio Viera De Mello, expressed his concerns about the status of human rights in Iraq. Amnesty International, in a [July 23] "Memorandum on concerns relating to law and order" (http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGMDE141572003 ), denounced "reports of torture or ill treatment by Coalition Forces."There are also "abuses," more and more frequent, during violent operations, for the GIs are still behaving as if they were at war.
Shots at civilian cars that have the misfortune to pass by at the wrong moment. Shots at occupants of a commandeered house who start to react defensively because they think they're being robbed. From a legal point of view, everything remains in a state of utter vagueness.
INHUMANE CONDITIONSTo all this must be added the poor hygiene, the heat, and the crowding in the detention centers improvised by the Americans, who, in addition to the tarpaulin camps, have put back into service the immense Abu Ghraib prison, the symbol of the thirty years of repression by the defunct regime. "It is shameful to see people detained in inhumane conditions without their families being informed, often for weeks," said Mahmoud Ben Romdhane, the head of Amnesty's delegation to Iraq, indignantly.There is certainly no comparison between the life of a detainee today and what that was during Saddam's time, but those who have been incarcerated by the Americans remain profoundly shocked, even if they acknowledge that in general the GI guards "behaved appropriately."
General Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of coalition forces in Iraq, explained the difficulties in publishing lists of prisoners to inform families "because of problems in spelling names, which are often imprecise."
ON THE GROUNDWhen he arrived at Camp Cropper, near the airport, Nudir broke down. "Under nothing but a tarp, there were 200 of us, and we didn't have the right to leave the barbed-wire enclosure that surrounded each tent. There were a dozen of them, and we couldn't talk back and forth, except by making distant gestures," said the engineer. In the neighboring tent, he saw some "VIPs" - former officials of the regime on the list of wanted persons, including the former president of Parliament, Sadoun Hammadi - who "was being treated like everybody else." "We slept on the ground, on newspapers or, for those who were lucky, on gunnysacks. The food was meager, army rations once a day, and water was even scarcer, scarcely three liters a day despite the extreme heat It was always hot, brought in metal containers. The latrines were just holes dug inside the enclosure giving off a pestilential stench," recalled Nudir, for whom the worst was going without cigarettes. Smoking was strictly prohibited. At the slightest infraction, the detainees were punished by making them stand for hours in the sun, arms and legs outstretched. "When a prisoner collapsed, they brought him to with a little water, and then he had to resume his standing position," said the ex-detainee, who also saw some of his companions punished for more serious misconduct by being thrown into the dirt on their stomach with their hands tied under the hot sun. "They didn't beat us, but they treated us like cattle," exclaimed Tony, who, after two days, was transferred to the south, to Um Qasr, to a prisoner-of-war camp, "where at least there was soap to wash with."
INDIGNATIONDuring his detention, Nudir was interrogated only once, for five minutes. "I didn't know how long I would be there. Then one day they called my number. I learned I was free," he said. His family had only been informed of his detention fourteen days later. "They thought I had been killed by robbers, and for days they made the rounds of police stations, the Red Crescent, the International Red Cross, the American authorities, all to no avail," the engineer complained.When Tony was finally interrogated, after ten days in the Um Qasr camp, and was able to tell his story, the officer suddenly stood up. "I thought he was going to hit me, but he shook my hand, saying he was truly sorry for what had happened to me," said the economist, who nonetheless had to wait seventeen more days to be freed, after two other lengthy interrogations by intelligence officers who asked him if he belonged to the Baath Party, whether he knew any Baathists, what he had done during the Kuwait war, and why he didn't support the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, the Americans' protégé. He was able to prove his good faith. They walked him to the camp's gate, in the middle of the desert, 430 miles from Baghdad. They gave him $5 and it was up to him from there. He sighed:
"I hold it against the Americans. Like a lot of other Iraqis, I blessed them for having freed us from Saddam Hussein. From now on, I have no more illusions."
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