|Abu Ghraib Victims Speak
Alleged Victim Calls U.S. Jailer ‘Disgrace to All Civilized and Democratic Values’
By Dave Marash
B A G H D A D, Iraq, Aug. 8, 2004 "ABC" -- They say they were subjected to psychological torture, physically abused, sexually humiliated.
And three former detainees at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison told ABC News' Nightline it was at the hands of the U.S. military.
Most recent polls show between 80 percent and 90 percent of Iraqis call Americans not liberators, but occupiers. And by a clear majority, Iraqis want Americans to leave the country as soon as possible.
How did America lose the Iraqis' support? For many Iraqis, the answer is Abu Ghraib.
‘Immoral Practices’ Under U.S., Not Saddam
Saddam Saleh al-Radi, a former Abu Ghraib detainee, has a unique perspective: He was jailed in Abu Ghraib twice — the first time for trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein in the mid-1990s.
"What U.S. forces did to me, Saddam Hussein himself did not do," al-Radi said through a translator. "During Saddam Hussein's time, we used to be tortured. The scars from the torture I received during the previous regime still mark parts of my body. But I was never forced into nudity. There were never any immoral practices during Saddam Hussein's regime."
Al-Radi said he was arrested in late November after he reported to police a suspicious car wired with explosives driven by a man he knew to be a criminal. Most of his account could not be independently verified.
After three days of interrogations at one of Saddam's old palaces, he said he was taken to Abu Ghraib, put into a holding cell, and there a hood was placed over his head for what he thinks was about 16 hours.
"When they were torturing me, I lost consciousness," al-Radi said. "So, they removed the hood. One of the soldiers then urinated on me."
Then, the hood was put back on. And al-Radi was frog-marched to a cell on the ground floor of tier 1-A, known as the hard site.
"He then started pushing me," al-Radi said. "And wherever he saw a wall, he would hit me against it. Wherever there's a door, he would push me and hit me against it."
‘God Will Not Accept This’
Once in his cell, al-Radi said, he was forced, still hooded, down on his hands and knees.
"He pulled the bag off my head, and I saw something I have never seen in my life: A man's buttocks were facing me, and he was completely naked, [and] so were the others with him," al-Radi said. "I'm 29 years old. Since I'm mature, around the age of 13 to 14 years, until today, no one has ever seen me naked. Nor have I seen anyone naked at all.
"I am religious," he added. "My religion does not allow me to see the private parts of naked bodies of others. And for others to see my naked body, this is haram, forbidden for me. God will not accept this.
"They stripped me naked," al-Radi said. "They made me stand on a box used for storing soldier food, I think it's called MREs. I was completely naked with two bags on my head."
Al-Radi mostly blamed two American soldiers, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Cpl. Charles Graner, both of whom are now facing military charges, for the alleged rough treatment.
According to al-Radi, Frederick, "threatened me by saying that if I did not cooperate with them by giving them information, they would make the soldier rape me."
‘I Have No Future’
What was done to him has had a terrible effect, he said. He had become engaged to be married just four days before he was arrested, but broke it off immediately after he was released from prison.
"For me to commit to a woman, I will need to be truthful to my other half," al-Radi said. "I feel that something is missing inside me. How can I say any of this to my wife? I am sure she will lose all respect toward me."
And that was before the world saw those photographs of things that had happened to him.
"Before the publishing of the photographs, I had been keeping my experience to myself," he said. "After the publishing of the photographs, my mother came to me and asked me, 'Have they done to you what they have done to them?' I had to say, 'No.' Then, a relative of mine, who was detained with us and who knew of my story there, told my family what he knew, and that they did so-and-so to me."
Now, he said, he doesn't see anyone — not his mother or brothers or sisters-in-law. He's too ashamed.
"My future?" he said. "I have no future."
Mayor Thrown In Jail
The prisoners held at Abu Ghraib didn't all fit the profile of an Iraqi insurgent. Haj Ali Shallal Abbas is a community mayor in the town of Abu Ghraib.
"I contacted the U.S. military base on Oct. 13, to inquire about young men from our area who have been arrested," Abbas said through a translator.
He says he was just doing his job when he was tossed into the prison, into the clutches of abusive soldiers.
"Frederick had come once or twice with a group of dogs," Abbas said. "They would tie us to the doors and then unleash the dogs on us. Graner was a disgrace to all civilized and democratic values every day. Graner enjoyed seeing prisoners tortured and tied up in the cells."
Abbas was halfway through his three months at Abu Ghraib on the day that al-Radi arrived. The sexually humiliating treatment that al-Radi describes, Abbas says, was part of Graner's welcoming party.
"Usually when prisoners are brought in, Graner would be present," Abbas said. "First of all, they would be made naked, with their hands behind their backs. Then, they would put the bag over their heads, using shoes to beat them on sensitive parts of their bodies, pushing them against the walls."
Abbas thinks Graner singled him out for special treatment because he has a badly defective left hand. He'd had surgery on it two weeks before his arrest and was awaiting a second operation.
Every day, Abbas said, "He made me put my hand out in the cell bars and would stomp with his boots on this hand."
His doctor now says Abbas' hand can never be repaired.
‘Beaten in Front of My Eyes’
The story Mithaal Sultan al-Hasani told might sound mild compared to others. But al-Hasani, the first woman detainee to speak out, was the smallest fish imaginable. Afer her arrest, the shopkeeper, who is in her late 50s, said she had to endure something forbidden under the Geneva Conventions.
"My son was beaten in front of my eyes," al-Hasani said through a translator. "The hood was over his head. And he was dragged on the floor. And he was pushed into the walls."
Her son was released the same day he was beaten, something that was kept from al-Hasani during her whole three months in prison.
Al-Hasani's family ties were twice exploited — by the beating of her son, and while she was being held in the high-security interrogation center near Baghdad International Airport.
"For six days, the hood was not removed from my head," she said. "Neither were my handcuffs taken off. When they pushed a young girl into my cell, she had a hood on. And I thought it was my daughter. But when I removed the hood, it was someone else. I broke down."
After six days at the airport, she says, Abu Ghraib prison was easy — perhaps, by then, because it was under intense investigation.
"The interrogation at Abu Ghraib, it wasn't a real one — just chit-chat," she said.
‘I Was Ashamed’
What was hard, al-Hasani says, even after three months in custody, was leaving prison. She feared disgrace, even feared that her family might kill her or lock her away to protect the family honor.
"A lot of women in prison are afraid of their families because of our Eastern traditions," she said.
So, she said, she all but sneaked back home.
"I was ashamed of being imprisoned," she added. "I'm the mother of young daughters. Maybe no one would marry them. I expected the neighbors would not enter my house.
"But when I was released," she continued, "I found my house full of visitors. I felt like a bride. They slaughtered four sheep for me. And all my relatives were very proud because I was a single woman and had survived this alone." In Iraq, hundreds of families have stories like these, of imprisonment that was allegedly undeserved, unnecessarily prolonged, and sometimes brutal as well. The stories, and the legends that grow up around them, could be a major impediment to future Iraqi-American friendship.
ABC News' Dave Marash in Baghdad reported this story for Nightline on Aug. 3.
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