Doctor says all sides faced torture in Kuwait

April 25, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHICAGO -- For many of Kuwait's hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and ethnic minorities, life after liberation has been just as oppressive -- sometimes more so -- than it was during the seven-month occupation by Iraqi soldiers, according to a U.S. doctor who examined two Palestinians a day after they were tortured by Kuwaitis.

But when it comes to torture techniques, said Dr. Robert Kirschner, the Iraqi occupation forces were in a league by themselves for creative cruelty.

Dr. Kirschner, the chief medical examiner for Cook County, Ill., and a world-renowned expert on identifying evidence of torture, shared those impressions after returning this month from a five-day stay in Kuwait. During the trip, he visited each of the country's major hospitals and interviewed or examined scores of residents on behalf of the Boston-based Physicians for Human Rights.

He said he found that both the Palestinians and the ethnic minorities -- Sri Lankans, Filipinos and Indians -- who make up most of the country's work force, were generally last in line for the country's scarce food and medical supplies.

Dr. Kirschner, who traveled with another doctor, said, "When we talked to non-Kuwaitis and would bring up the Iraqi occupation, we would hear stories about it, but they were always coupled with the statement that things are really no better working for the Kuwaitis than working for the Iraqis. . . . Their real fear now was that the Kuwaitis were back. They felt they'd never received fair treatment."

But the worst treatment in Kuwait these days seems to be reservedfor Palestinians who have been accused of collaborating with the Iraqis during the occupation. The Kuwaiti government has confirmed that several hundred have been detained to await trial, and at least 10 are believed to have been executed or beaten to death.

Dr. Kirschner said he examined two who had been tortured the day before.

"One had been beaten on the back and the arms and the legs," he said. "The second young man had not only been beaten, but also burned with acid and given electric shocks. He was burned on his neck and his back and the backs of his legs.

Dr. Kirschner said the men told him they had been questioned about collaboration and were told to return to their neighborhoods to act as informants.

But he found even more horrifying evidence of torture among about a dozen Kuwaitis he interviewed and examined, he said.

Dr. Kirschner, who has investigated reports of torture in Argentina, El Salvador, Czechoslovakia, Kenya, Korea and elsewhere, said, "If you look in the reports over the years, Syria and Iraq have been countries where torture has almost become a creative art, where they sit around and see what kinds of tortures they could devise."

One Kuwaiti man he examined, for example, limped from a dislocated hip. He said the Iraqis had tied him into a chair bolted to the floor, then put a chain around his left leg, wrenching the chain tighter until his leg was pulled out of its hip joint.

The same man had also been placed, standing, for 24 hours in a box so small that he had to bend over with his head between his knees.

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