Kuwaitis give accounts of torture by Iraqis, but the extent remains unclear WAR IN THE GULF

March 01, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- The Iraqi army tortured and killed scores of innocent Kuwaiti adults and children, although the brutality may not have been on the scale reported by the exiled Kuwaiti government and the Bush administration, according to Kuwaiti doctors, security officials and other officials here.

In more than a dozen interviews yesterday, the emerging picture of life under Iraqi occupation remains still one of savagery, terror and apparently indiscriminate hostage-taking.

Several people said that their relatives, friends and colleagues were detained, often for no apparent reason, sometimes tortured and sometimes killed.

The bodies of the dead often had no fingernails, had severe head injuries, burns or gunshot wounds and sometimes were unrecognizable because entire faces had been slashed.

These people said Iraqi troops recently took as many as 11,000 others as hostages during their retreat.

But the evidence of brutality on a vast scale is either lacking or has been destroyed, making what is available inconclusive at best.

At least two rooms identified yesterday by torture victims or members of the Mukouma, the Kuwaiti resistance, have been destroyed by fire, purportedly by Iraqi soldiers trying to cover up their atrocities.

A building near the Palestinian neighborhood of Hawali, recently occupied by the Iraqi special forces, went up in flames at 2:30 p.m. yesterday, lighting up a sky that had become as dark as night because of storm clouds and smoke from burning oil storage tanks outside the city.

Nearby residents said the Iraqis kept many of their records there, but it could not be determined whether allied forces had seized any documents in time.

For months, the exiled Kuwaiti government publicized reports from refugees and other sources about torture and killing by the Iraqis. Earlier this month, they reported that a killing spree had including beheadings and the display of headless corpses in front of the victims' homes and families.

Last week, President Bush, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and U.S. military officials said they could "confirm" some of Kuwait's claims.

Robert Gates, President Bush's assistant national security adviser, said this week that some 200 young Kuwaitis had been "executed and mutilated." Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, said that up to 8,000 Kuwaitis have been killed by the Iraqis.

Dr. Bader al Otaibi, an internist at Mubarak al Kabir Hospital, a 500-bed facility and the largest of three major hospitals in the city, said ambulances had delivered three to four dead civilians "almost every day or every other day" since August.

Other estimates from doctors and other sources, based mostly on direct knowledge of the cases, said that roughly 250 to 400 Kuwaiti citizens were murdered by the Iraqi army.

Most died of gunshot wounds and showed signs of torture, including missing fingernails, cigarette burns and marks made by electric probes, Dr. Otaibi and others at the hospital said.

Ahdal R. Abbas, the hospital's director of ambulance services, gave a similar estimate of murder victims, saying he would get calls to pick up bodies of torture victims "sometimes twice, three times a day."

"It's terrible, really," Mr. Abbas said. He said the youngest fatality he saw was a 13-year-old, shot in the head three days before the ground war began.

Mr. Abbas' associate, Jihad al Gharabelli, said that the hospital has been aware of seven cases of decapitation, all of which occurred within the week before the ground war started.

Some of the people who survived Iraqi captivity, found during random interviews across the city, described being beaten but said they were not subjected to harsher treatment.

"All I did was put up the [Kuwaiti] flag," said Faval H. Dashti, who said he was held for three months in Tikrit and Basra in Iraq.

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