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Arrests And Abuse By American Troops On The Rise In Iraq

"They're treating us like cattle"

by Marc Semo

Translated from Libération (Paris), July 30, 2003
www.globalresearch.ca   1 August 2003

The URL of this article is: http://globalresearch.ca/articles/SEM308B.html


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 16,481

 As 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 CONDITIONS

 To 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 GROUND

 When 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."

 INDIGNATION

 During 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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