Wounds testify to Palestinians' torture in Kuwait

March 16, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- The young man named Fawzi did not know that the U.S. State Department has said it could find "no evidence" that Palestinians have been tortured or killed by returning Kuwaiti authorities.

Fawzi knows only that he has the scars from electric wires touched to his shoulders and feet, and bruises from beatings, and marks where a knife blade was heated over flame and touched to his back.

This happened, he said, two weeks ago at the hands of a Kuwaiti policeman.

A report from Washington that an "extensive inquiry" by the State Department had found no evidence of such abuse by authorities contradicts the numerous accounts of Palestinians in Kuwait.

Accounts of beatings, torture and mysterious disappearances are commonplace in the Palestinian neighborhoods since Kuwait City was liberated Feb. 26. Young Palestinian men now cower in their homes, afraid to go out lest they disappear at one of the many checkpoints around town.

"They have made women of us. We have to sit around our homes all day, and send our sisters out to wait in lines to carry water and get food," said Wael Hamed, 24, a travel agent.

Hassem Yaseen Al-Muti did not sit at home. On March 2, the newly married 28-year-old clerk set out with three cousins to find gasoline for his car. Among the cousins was Eyad Rumani, 13, who begged to go along with the older men, said Mr. Al-Muti's sister.

The four never returned. Four days later, the car was found with blood in the back seat.

A few days after that, the body of young Eyad, shot once in the forehead, turned up at a local hospital. His identity card was in his pocket.

"Only God knows what if the other three are still alive," said the sister. "If they are not alive, we want to have the bodies back."

U.S. Ambassador Edward W. Gnehm said yesterday that he was unaware of the statement from the State Department in Washington.

"I believe there is some of that going on," he said of the brutality. But "I believe there are a lot of reports that are exaggerated."

He said he was confident that the Kuwaiti government "is very clear on their policy" of fairness to Palestinians. But he added, "That does not account for everything."

Walter Stocker, head of the Kuwait delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said it was difficult to prove who did what to the Palestinians who showed him their scars and bruises.

For days after the war, armed "resistance" fighters manned checkpoints and may have been responsible for taking revenge on Palestinians they felt cooperated with Iraqis, he said.

Such checkpoints now are a mixture of those resistance fighters, Kuwaiti or Saudi soldiers, and returning police, he said. The Red Cross has not had free access to jails and prisons, he said, and there is no single authority in control.

That was demonstrated yesterday in a Palestinian neighborhood when a man in civilian clothes and carrying a pistol demanded to know why a reporter was interviewing there.

Mr. Stocker said that particularly worrisome and difficult to track were the incidents of Palestinians who had simply disappeared. It is a "serious problem," he said.

Journalists have found Palestinians from Kuwait caught in limbo at the Iraqi border. The Palestinians said they were beaten and brought there by Kuwaiti authorities.

Walid Oqal disappeared last Saturday. The 28-year-old computer programmer took his 17-year-old cousin out in the car about 4:30 p.m. and braved the checkpoints for an errand.

When he did not return, his frantic family searched in police stations and hospitals. Yesterday, a neighbor saw two Kuwaiti soldiers driving Mr. Oqal's gray 1983 Chevrolet, said his father, Khalid Oqal, 61.

"I have lived here 40 years. I love Kuwait," said the father. He spoke in a dim room of a home in the Palestinian section of the city. His wife stood in the background, tracks of tears racing down her face.

"The Kuwaiti soldiers who have come back from Saudi Arabia treat us like animals," he said. "I think either the Kuwaiti resistance or the army captured him."

Mahr, 23, has a checkerboard of ugly scars on his shoulder, the work of Kuwaitis who burned him with a cigarette, he said.

He had been swept up on the street this week, he said, and taken to the police station for two days. The torture there was enough to drive him mad, he said.

"They treat us this way for no reason," he said. "They treat us this way because we are Palestinian."

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