They Treat Us Like Cattle
By Marc Semo
Wednesday 30 July 2003
The curfew had just fallen at 11 PM, as it had for the last three months in the Iraqi capital, and Nudir was late, but barely a few hundred yards from his home in the Zeyouna neighborhood, when an American patrol blocked the BMW he was in with two friends. Polite, but firm, the GIs laid them out on the hood. They searched the vehicle. Like many Iraqis, he had a revolver for self-defense in the glove compartment. The soldiers
immediately bound their hands. They made us get into an armored troop carrier and started to beat us up, relates the young engineer, who, after a night in a holding center piled up in a barred cage with 350 other suspects, finally arrived at Camp Cropper , the airport prison of canvas tents surrounded by barbed wire and smashed in the sun where he spent sixteen days. It was the end of May. He was registered as an enemy prisoner of war , number 8,122.
Number 16,481. Tony was arrested ten days later, June 3, at his home in the Al-Mansur neighborhood. Thieves had started to loot the house next door. The neighbors and I began to fire into the air to make them run away, and the Americans arrived a few minutes later. They weren t interested in the thieves. They asked me who had fired and where the weapons were. I showed them the Kalashnikov I kept for my family s protection. They confiscated it, bound my hands and took me away , recounts the young Christian economist, who did not come home until twenty-six days later, having passed through the prison camps set up in the south of the country, near Um Qasr. During his time at Camp Cropper, he was given the number 16,481.
In the absence of statistics, these numbers give an idea of the number of people arrested in Baghdad during American-led raids and controls. There are a huge number of detainees who come and go, making any precise account impossible , asserts an ICRC representative, who, while acknowledging having access to all the detention sites now , denounces the big black marks which remain: the protracted procedures and the absence of lawyers and judges .
Nudir and Tony s misadventures are two stories among many others that testify to the daily oppression effected by American troops, who are edgier all the time. In his report to the Security Council, the UN s Baghdad Representative, Sergio Viera De Mello, expressed his concerns with the human rights situation in Iraq. Amnesty International, in a
Memorandum of Concerns about Law and Order denounced the cases of torture and bad treatment inflicted by coalition forces . There have also been ever more frequent blunders during strike operations as the GIs always act as though they are in a combat situation. Discharges against civilian vehicles that have the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shots at occupants of houses to be searched who give a suggestion of a defensive reaction, thinking that they re dealing with looters. Legally, the most complete flux continues to reign.
Inhumane Conditions. Add to that the bad hygiene, the heat, and the crowding of the detention centers improvised by the Americans, who, apart from the tent camps, have put the immense Abou Ghraib prison, a symbol of thirty years of repression by the defunct regime back into service. It s shameful to see people detained in inhumane conditions without their families being informed, often for weeks , Mahmoud ben Romdhane, head of Amnesty International s Iraq delegation, fumes.
There is certainly no comparison between the life of a detainee today and one during Saddam s era, but those who have been imprisoned by the Americans remain profoundly shocked by it, even when they acknowledge that in general, the GI guards were very proper . It s the absurdity of an occupation authority cut off from the realities of the country that s in question. General Ricardo Sanchez, Commander of the coalition forces in Iraq used this explanation for the difficulties publishing a prisoner list to keep families informed: because of spelling issues, the names are often imprecise .
On the same ground. When he arrived at Camp Cropper near the airport, Nudir collapsed. Under a simple canvas, we were almost 200 and we weren t allowed to leave the barbed wire enclosure that surrounded each tent. There were a dozen enclosures and we couldn t communicate from one to the other, except from a distance, with signals, recounts the
engineer. In a neighboring tent, he saw certain VIP s- former regime dignitaries on the list of wanted people, including the former Parliamenty President, Saadoun Hammadi , who got the same treatment as everyone . We slept on the same ground, on newspaper or, for the really lucky, hemp bags. The food was meager; army rations once a day and water even more miserly, barely three liters a day in spite of the scorching heat. Delivered in metal containers, it was always hot. The latrines were just holes dug inside the enclosures which gave off a pestilential smell , testifies Nudir, for whom the hardest thing was to go without cigarettes. Smoking was, in fact, strictly forbidden.
At the least escapade, the detainees are punished by standing for hours in the sun with arms and legs spread out. When a prisoner collapsed, they brought him to with a little bit of water, then he had to get back in his place and stand , explains the former detainee, who saw some of his comrades punished for more serious faults, thrown onto their bellies into the dust under the awning with their hands bound. They didn t hit us, but they treated us like cattle , Tony fumes. After two days, he 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 questioned 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 freed , he recounts. His family was only informed of his detention after two weeks. They thought I had been killed by thieves and for days had unsuccessfully made the rounds of all the hospitals, the Red Crescent, the International Red Cross , and the American authorities , he rages.
When Tony was finally questioned after ten days in the Um Qasr camp and able to tell his story, the officer suddenly got up. I thought he was going to hit me, but he shook my hand and told me he was truly sorry for everything that had happened to me , testifies the economist, who had to wait another seventeen days to recover his freedom after two long
interrogations by intelligence officers who asked him whether he was a Baath party member, whether he knew Baath party members, what he had done during the Kuwait war, and why he was not a member of the Iraqi National Congress of Ahmed Chalabi, the Americans prot g . He was able to prove his good faith. They took him to the gates of the camp in the middle of the desert, 700 kilometers (LT: about 500 miles) from Baghdad. They gave him five dollars. It was up to him to take care of himself. He sighs. I hold it against the Americans. Like many other Iraqis, I bless them for having freed us of Saddam Hussein. But from now on, I no longer have any illusions.
Translation: TruthOut French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.